The first female Muslim U.S. judge – who later became the first black woman appointed to the New York Court of Appeals – was found dead Wednesday on the bank of the Hudson River.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s body showed no obvious signs of trauma, and a medical examiner was set to try to determine what killed her; however, police sources told The New York Post her death appeared to be a suicide.
“She was a pioneer,” N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “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. I was proud to appoint her to the state’s highest court and am deeply saddened by her passing.”
Abdus-Salaam, 65, was reported missing from her Harlem home earlier in the day, and witnesses spotted her fully-clothed body floating in the water near 132nd St. and Hudson Parkway on Wednesday afternoon, police sources told The New York Post.
Her husband later identified the body.
Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said he knew Abdus-Salaam for many years. He said her death was “difficult to understand.”
“The court has suffered a terrible blow,” he said.
Abdus-Salaam graduated from Barnard College and received her law degree from Columbia Law School. She started her career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a judge in Manhattan state Supreme Court for 14 years, according to the state Office of Court Administration's website.
The president of the New York State Bar Association, Claire P. Gutekunst, said Abdus-Salaam grew up poor in a 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.