The first black woman Sheila Abdus-Salaam, an associate judge on New York State’s highest court and the first Muslim judge in the US was found dead in Hudson River on Wednesday.
A police spokesman stated the 65-year old woman was found floating off Manhattan’s west side at about 1:45 pm. The police recovered her fully-clothed body and she was declared dead at that time. Her husband identified her body.
According to the police, her body had no signs of trauma. The paramedics wanted to study her body to try to identify the cause of her death. A law enforcement officer suggested that there were no signs of criminality.
She lived in the Washington, DC and became the first African-American woman appointed to the Court of Appeals. Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo named her to the state’s high court in 2013. Mr. Cuomo called her a “trailblazing jurist”.
He said, “As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer. Through her writings, her wisdom and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said, “Her personal warmth, uncompromising sense of fairness and bright legal mind were an inspiration to all of us who had the good fortune to know her.”
According to the state Office of Court Administration’s website, Sheila Abdus-Salaam graduated from Bernard College and received her law degree from Columbia Law School. At first, she was a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services and then served as a judge in Manhattan state Supreme Court for 14 years.
Claire P. Gutekunst, the president of the New York State Bar Association said she grew up in a poor family of seven children in Washington, D.C. and “rose to become one of the seven judges in New York’s highest court, where her intellect, judicial temperament and wisdom earned her wide respect.”
Since 2013, she had been one of the seven judges on the State Court of Appeals.