Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman appointed to the New York State Court of Appeals, has died. Her body was discovered in the Hudson River.
A New York Police Department spokesman told us that police responded to an emergency call the afternoon of 12 April 2017, and upon arrival police found an unidentified female “unresponsive and unconscious” in the water. According to the New York Post, her husband had reported her missing earlier in the day:
Her husband later identified her body. Sources said it showed no obvious signs of trauma or injuries indicating criminality or foul play, and that her death appeared to be a suicide.
According to reports, Abdus-Salaam earned a considerable amount of respect from her colleagues:
Veteran New York trial lawyer Robert Kelner, who first met Abdus-Salaam 20 years ago at a Columbia Law School event, called the judge “a brilliant person.”
“This was a person who really made an enormous effort to be a very down the middle jurist who would judge issues as it came to her,” Kelner said. “I don’t think she had a leaning toward one side or the other.”
Kelner said the judge’s personality at Columbia functions was “both serious and warm.” He added: “I don’t know anyone who would not have liked her.”
Abdus-Salaam, 65, was elected to the state’s Supreme Court in 1993; she served there until 2009. She was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013, who released a statement about her death on social media:
Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist and a force for good.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies. https://t.co/hnic07Shp1
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 12, 2017
Police have not released a cause of death. The investigation is continuing.
Correction: Initial reports called her the first Muslim woman judge in the United States; according to later stories and updates, she was not Muslim.