A New York Court of Appeals judge, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, was found dead on Wednesday afternoon in New York. After reports of being missing from her family home in Harlem, police found her fully clothed body floating off Manhattan’s west side on the Hudson River.
There are no obvious signs of trauma or injuries on the body indicating criminality or foul play and the police have not speculated the cause of her death. Her husband reportedly identified her and an autopsy will determine the cause of death, the police spokesperson said. NYPD is investigating the incident.
A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School and a native of Washington D.C., the 65-year-old was the first ever black woman and Muslim to be appointed to a seat on New York’s highest court, and the first Muslim woman to serve on the bench in the United States. New York Democratic governor Andrew M. Cuomo, on April 5, 2013, appointed her to the bench without opposition by a voice vote.
“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,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.
“Deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Sheila Abdus-Salaam. She was a humble pioneer. My thoughts are with her family,” said Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor, on Twitter.
Jonathan Lippman, former chief of the appeals court and Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s long-time friend and colleague, said Abdus-Salaam’s death is a terrible blow to the court.
“She was a very gentle, lovely lady and judge,” he told the New York Post. “If you ask anyone about her, people would say only the most wonderful things. That’s why it makes it even more difficult to understand.”
He described her as a superb jurist and human being.
Zachary Carter, Corporation Counsel, said the judge’s death is an “unspeakable tragedy”.
“She was a conscientious, thoughtful judge who never lost her humility,” he told the NY Daily News.
Janet DiFiore, chief judge and Abdus-Salaam’s colleague stated, “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.”