Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a groundbreaking black jurist who became the first African-American woman to serve on New York’s top court and the first female Muslim judge in the United States, has been found dead in New York’s Hudson river on Wednesday. She was 65.
The body of Abdus-Salaam, a 65-year-old associate judge of New York’s highest court, was found floating off Harlem yesterday afternoon, a police spokesman said. Police pulled Abdus-Salaam’s fully clothed body from the water and she was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers said her body showed no obvious signs of trauma and they declined to speculate on the cause of her death.
Her family identified her and an autopsy would determine the cause of death, the spokesman said. It is not yet known how Abdus-Salaam ended up in the river or how long her body had been there. Her death shook the New York legal community, prompting responses from colleagues, judges and state and local political leaders.
Abdus-Salaam, a native of Washington, DC, became the first black woman appointed to the court of appeals when the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, named her to the state’s highest court in 2013.
“Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all,” Cuomo said in a statement.