A groundbreaking African-American legal expert who became the first Muslim woman to serve as a US judge was found dead in New York’s Hudson River on Wednesday, police said.
Sheila Abdus-Salaam, a 65-year-old associate judge of New York’s highest court, was found floating off Manhattan’s west side on Wednesday afternoon, a day after she was reported missing, a police spokesman said.
Police pulled Abdus-Salaam’s fully clothed body from the water and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said her body showed no obvious signs of trauma, and they declined to speculate on the cause of her death. Her family identified her and an autopsy will determine the cause of death, the spokesman said.
Abdus-Salaam, a native of Washington, DC, became the first African-American woman appointed to the Court of Appeals when Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo named her to the state’s high court in 2013.
“Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all,” Mr Cuomo said in a statement.
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” he added. “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.”
“Deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Sheila Abdus-Salaam. She was a humble pioneer. My thoughts are with her family,” said Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor, on Twitter.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History said Abdus-Salaam was the first female Muslim to serve as a US judge.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said her colleague will be “missed deeply.”
“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,” DiFiore said.
Former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said he knew Abdus-Salaam for many years. He said her death of was “difficult to understand”.
“The court has suffered a terrible blow,” he said.
A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia Law School, Abdus-Salaam started her law career with East Brooklyn Legal Services and served as a New York state assistant attorney general, according to the Court of Appeals website.
She held a series of judicial posts after being elected to a New York City judgeship in 1991.