First female Muslim judge in US found dead in Hudson River.
The body of trailblazing New York State appeals court judge who was the first African-American and Muslim woman to sit on the state’s highest court was found in the Hudson River Wednesday afternoon, police said.
Witnesses discovered the body of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, near West 132nd Street and the Henry Hudson Parkway around 1:45 p.m. and contacted police, the NYPD said.
The NYPD Harbor Unit pulled her body from the river and took it to West 125 Street and Marginal Street, where medics responded and pronounced her dead at the scene, police said.
Her husband filed a missing persons report Tuesday, an NYPD spokeswoman said. He also identified the body, according to The New York Daily News.
The investigation is ongoing, the spokeswoman said.
Abdus-Salaam, a longtime Harlem resident who was born in working-class Washington, D.C., was appointed to the State Court of Appeals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013. She became not only the first African-American woman, but the country’s first female Muslim judge.
She got her start as a lawyer at Brooklyn Legal Services in East Brooklyn, according to her online biography.
Abdus-Salaam eventually worked her way up to to the state’s Law Department, the general counsel for the city’s Office of Labor Services, before being elected to the state’s Supreme Court.
“Rising from working-class roots to serve for decades on the bench of the New York State Supreme Court, Justice Abdus-Salaam has a deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers, as well as the complex legal issues that come before the state’s highest court,” Cuomo said at the time of her nomination, according to the New York Times.
She also attended law school at Columbia University with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the 1970s.
Holder, at her 2013 swearing-in ceremony, called her clever, intelligent and also joked that “Sheila could boogie,” according to the Albany Times-Union.
“Who knew that we would both attain such high positions, and that you would be the first black United States attorney general, and I would be the first black woman on the New York Court of Appeals?” she later told Holder at the swearing in, according to the paper.
Soon after news of her death broke, the governor released a statement calling her “a trailblazing jurist and a force for good.
“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies,” Cuomo said.
Lawmakers and those in the legal world also offered their condolences.
“A trailblazer, fighter for justice and a mensch. Incomprehensible. We will miss her,” tweeted Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Carl Heastie, the speaker of the state Assembly, in a statement called her “dedicated public servant” and said “her passing leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.”
Abdus-Salaam being the court’s first African-American woman was not lost on her. In a video interview with the Brownstone Project discussing the importance of African-American history, she expressed pride in her rise.
“This great-granddaughter of slaves is the first African-American judge on the highest court of the state of New York,” she said.
“All the way from Arrington, Virginia, where my family was the property of someone else, to my sitting on the highest court in the state of New York is amazing and huge and it tells you — and me — what it is to know who we are and what we can do.”