America's First Female Muslim Judge Found Dead in Hudson River

The prolific New York judge was 65 years old.

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Apr 13 2017, 1:56pm

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African American woman to serve on the New York State Court of Appeals, was found dead on Wednesday in the Hudson River, the New York Times reports.

Although local police found no trauma or signs of injury on Abdus-Salaam's body, it's not clear how the judge died or ended up off the shore of the river. According to BBC News, police first learned the judge was missing after her husband made a call Wednesday. Abdus-Salaam, who was 65 years old, was pronounced dead at around 2 PM, shortly after law enforcement found her.

Before her death, Abdus-Salaam had an illustrious career as the first Muslim woman to serve as a US judge. After becoming a public defender in Brooklyn, Abdus-Salaam went on to serve as an assistant attorney general in the New York state attorney's Civil Rights Bureau. From there she served as a lawyer in the city's Law Department, an associate justice on the First Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, and a State Supreme Court justice in New York City, according to the Times.

In 2013, New York governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Abdus-Salaam to the State Court of Appeals, making her the first black woman to serve on New York's highest court. There, she was known to champion immigrants and the poor over wealthy, corporate interests. One of her most important rulings—which was decided last year—gave non-biological parents in same-sex relationships the right to seek custody of their children.

Cuomo lauded Abdus-Salaam after learning of her death Wednesday, calling her "a force for good."

"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," the governor said in a statement. "I was proud to appoint her to the state's highest court and am deeply saddened by her passing." 

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