Coming as a shock on Wednesday, Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Muslim woman to serve as a judge in the United States was found dead in New York’s Hudson River.
The police was alerted when a floating body was spotted at the river at about 1:45 p.m. EDT (1545 GMT). The police found her floating by the shore near West 132nd Street in Upper Manhattan.
Her husband identified her body. The dead judge had reportedly gone missing earlier in the day.
What transpired before her discovery has not been deciphered but an autopsy has been ordered to help in that regard. Report says the body was found without any traces of trauma or violence. In other words the possibility of suicide is considered.
The 65-year old woman of repute was also the first ever African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals. She obtained her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1977.
Her first working experience as a legal practitioner was as a staff attorney at East Brooklyn Legal Services. Later she was elected to the Supreme Court in 1993.
Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam grew up in Washington. She was the 7th child in a poor family.
The deceased judge researched into her origin to discover that her grandfather was a Slave in Virginia. Perhaps the discovery influenced her philosophy and life’s pursuit. She had once shared her amazement at the irony between her grandfather and herself in the present time.
“All the way from Arrington, Va., where my family was the property of someone else, to my sitting on the highest court of the State of New York is amazing and huge.”
“It tells you and me what it is to know who we are and what we can do.”
Sheila spent energy and years in defending the marginalized and the poor. After her law school she took up the cause of defending people in Brooklyn who could not afford paid lawyers.
Past record shows that she had won anti-discrimination suit for over 30 female bus drivers who had been denied promotion in New York.
At the news of her death many legal practitioners have sent in their tributes en masse.
According to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo who appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 2013,
“She was a superb jurist and an even more superb human being,”
“I knew her for many, many years… It’s just so shocking. She was a very genteel, lovely lady and judge. 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 Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam as a “trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all”.
“She was a pioneer,”
“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 I’m deeply saddened by her passing.”