Sad! Body of the United States’ First Female Muslim Judge Found in the Hudson River
The body of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the United States’ first ever female Muslim judge, was found Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River near Manhattan.
Abdus-Salaam, 65, was discovered floating fully clothed on the Manhattan side of the river just before 2 p.m., by the Henry Hudson Parkway near W. 132nd St. — just a mile from her central Harlem home.
Her husband, who reported her missing Tuesday morning, was brought in to identify the body, sources said.
Police sources said there were no signs of obvious trauma or injuries indicating foul play.
Abdus-Salaam, who made history as the country’s first female Muslim judge, was
nominated in 2013 to serve on the state Court of Appeals by Gov. Cuomo.
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday. “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.
“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family, loved ones and colleagues during this trying and difficult time,” the governor added.
During her confirmation hearings before the state legislature, Abdus-Salaam drew a chuckle from lawmakers when she said she was first inspired to become a lawyer as a child watching the television shows “Perry Mason” and “East Side/West Side.”
“Being a judge is an honor and involves tremendous responsibility to the litigants and to society,” she said before her unanimous approval.
“She was highly respected and an inspiration to so many throughout her career,” state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “Her passing leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.”
Abdus-Salaam’s colleagues also mourned her death.
“The New York Court of Appeals was saddened to learn today of the passing of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a most beloved colleague since she joined the Court in May 2013,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said on behalf of the New York Court of Appeals. “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.
“Sheila’s smile could light up the darkest room. The people of New York can be grateful for her distinguished public service. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, and we will miss her greatly,” she added.
Last summer, Abdus-Salaam wrote an important decision on a major ruling for same-sex and other non-traditional couples, t
Thee state’s top court ruled that non-biological and non-adoptive parents can seek visitation and custody if a couple breaks up.
Previously, the courts have held that non-biological and non-adoptive parents have no legal standing when it comes to parenting.
Abdus-Salaam wrote that “where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the non-biological, non-adoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody.”
“Deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Sheila Abdus-Salaam. She was a humble pioneer. My thoughts are with her family,” Mayor de Blasio wrote on Twitter.
“Justice Abdus-Salaam was not simply a trailblazer as the first Muslim female judge in the United States and the first African-American woman on the New York Court of Appeals. During her time on the bench, Justice Abdus-Salaam earned the respect of all who appeared before her as a thoughtful, thorough, and fair jurist,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
Abdus-Salaam, one of seven children born to a working class family in Washington, D.C., graduated from Barnard College and received her J.D. from the Columbia University School of Law, where she was a classmate of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Sheila could boogie, but there was a seriousness about her, a strong sense of purpose at a relatively young age,” Holder recalled at her swearing-in ceremony. “She never forgot where she came from.”
Before her nomination, she was a judge in Manhattan Supreme Court for 14 years, an attorney with East Brooklyn Legal Services Corp., the New York City Law Department and the city Office of Labor Services.
“She was a conscientious, thoughtful judge who never lost her humility. This is an unspeakable tragedy,” city Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter told the Daily News.
“Our hearts ache with the passing of Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam – a judicial stalwart renowned for her intellect, and commitment to the law, morality, fairness, and justice,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement.
The last court session she likely attended was March 29, where the panel of seven appeals judges heard three cases. The next session was scheduled for April 25.
A longtime court employee who has known Abdus-Salaam for years said the divorcee had recently remarried and was very happy.
Abdus-Salaam and Rev. Gregory Jacobs wed last June at the Greater Newark Conservancy, according to a marriage announcement.
Jacobs, who works for the Episcopal Archdiocese of Newark, stopped by Abdus-Salaam’s Harlem brownstone Wednesday evening, accompanied by detectives.
Neighbor and friend Deborah Audate said the couple maintained separate residences, but spent time together on weekends.
“Even though she was an appellate judge which is a position of high authority, she was just an ordinary person on the block,” Audate said. “She’s just very smart. She really was a very humble person.
“She’s very well respected on this block. I think we’re still stunned by it,” she added.
Other neighbors were stunned by the sudden death.
“The sort of person who would harm nobody. Not a bad bone in her body, you wouldn’t imagine anything like this ever happening to her,” said Pat Miller, 56. “There was no malice. She never flaunted her power. You wouldn’t know unless you asked her. Totally unbiased.”
Reverend James Moore, 65, who lives next door, described Abdus-Salaam as a “lovely person.”
“I’m very shocked that something like this would occur,” he said. “What frightens me is, how can something like this happen.”
The medical examiner will determine the cause of death and the investigation is ongoing, police said.