America's first female Muslim judge found dead in New York

AP

America's first female Muslim judge, who broke gender, race, and religious barriers when she was named to New York's highest court, was found dead Wednesday.

Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead on the bank of the Hudson River, near Harlem a day after she was reported missing, police said.

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman appointed to New York's highest court, was found dead on the bank of a river.

Police said the 65-year-old's body showed no obvious signs of trauma, and they declined to speculate on the cause of her death.

The medical examiner planned to study her body to try to determine what killed her.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Abdus-Salaam to New York's Court of Appeals in 2013, called her a "trailblazing jurist."

"As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state's Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer," Cuomo said.

"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."

Police said the 65-year-old's body showed no obvious signs of trauma, and they declined to speculate on the cause of her death.

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.

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.

Abdus-Salaam wrote a landmark ruling, defending the rights of non-biological parents in same-sex partnerships to seek custody and visitation after a separation.

Colleagues say the death of America's First Female Muslim Judge left a lasting impact on New York.

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."

Seymour W James Jr, attorney in chief at the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that the judge's passing had left many heartbroken.

"She leaves a lasting impact on New York, from her time as a legal services attorney fighting on behalf of low-income families, to her tenure as the first African-American woman to preside on the state's highest court."

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, tweeted “Devastated by the news that judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead in NY. RIP. May Allah bless your soul our Sister.”

A medical examiner will determine the cause of Abdus-Salaam’s death, which police are also investigating.