Wednesday afternoon Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found floating in the Hudson river after being reported missing earlier in the day. Her identity was confirmed by her husband. Sources close to the investigation report to the New York Post that they were not any signs of trauma, physical injuries or other indications of foul play. It currently appears that her death may have been a suicide.
Judge Abdus-Salaam’s death was met with disbelief and sadness by both the city and government.
Abdus-Salaam was an associate judge of the Court of Appeals and gained national attention when she was appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals. She began her legal career as a staff attorney at East Brooklyn Legal Services and was elected to New York’s Supreme Court in 1993.
Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals from 2009 to 2015, expressed his disbelief and paid tribute to her memory in a statement to The New York Post.
I’m deeply saddened at having lost a dear friend and colleague, and the court has suffered a terrible blow. She was a superb jurist and an even more superb human being. I knew her for many, many years. To some degree, we grew up together in the court. I’ve known her in all her different roles in the court. 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.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took to twitter to extend sympathies to the Abdus-Salaam family on the behalf of all New Yorkers.
Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist and a force for good.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies. https://t.co/hnic07Shp1
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 12, 2017
When she was promoted, she is often quoted as expressing her achievements with a smile:
Who knew that we would both attain such high positions and that you would be the first black United States attorney general, and I would be the first black woman on the New York Court of Appeals?”
Judge Abdus-Salaam was one of the most reliable liberal voices, regularly siding with vulnerable parties during civil suits and claims of misconduct against wealthy corporations and their benefactors.
Shortly before her passing, she impacted the law in her jurisdiction with her decision in the Matter of Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A.C.C., that expanded the legal definition of a parent, overturning a previous ruling that did not allow a nonbiological parent in a same-sex relationship to have the standing to seek custody or visitation rights.
The investigation into her death is currently ongoing.
Featured image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images