First Female Muslim Judge in the U.S. Found Dead in Hudson River

New York state court of appeal
A view of the New York State Court of Appeals building is seen in Albany, New York October 12, 2011. Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first female Muslim judge in the U.S., has been found dead. Hans Pennink/Reuters

The first Muslim woman to serve as a judge in the United States was found dead in the Hudson river in New York on Wednesday.

Police found the body of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, 65, floating in the river near Harlem. A New York Police Department spokesman tells Newsweek that the death is not believed to be suspicious, and that the body was fully clothed and showed no signs of trauma.

The NYPD spokesman says they are waiting on the results of an autopsy before determining whether an investigation into the death is needed.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Abdus-Salaam to the court of appeals in 2013, making her the first African American woman to serve at the state’s highest court.

In a statement, Cuomo said that Abdus-Salaam was a “trailblazing jurist and a force for good” and offered his condolences. “On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies,” said the Democratic governor.

Abdus-Salaam, who was born in Washington, D.C., was a graduate of Barnard College in New York and Columbia Law School. She worked as a public defender and in other legal roles before beginning her career as a judge in 1992. In 1993, she was elected to the New York state Supreme Court, where she served until 2009, when she became an associate justice in the appeals division.

Cuomo praised Abdus-Salaam’s “deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers” when he nominated her for the state’s highest court in 2013. Abdus-Salaam was a liberal voice on the State Court of Appeals, frequently defending vulnerable parties including immigrants and people suffering from mental illnesses, the New York Times reported.

In a statement, the court’s lead judge Janet DiFiore said: “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.”