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Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found dead on the bank of the Hudson River on Wednesday afternoon. Abdus-Salaam was both the first female Muslim U.S. judge and the first black woman appointed to the New York Court of Appeals. 

According to the New York Post, her body showed no obvious signs of trauma or injury; authorities have told the Post that her death appeared to be a suicide. Abdus-Salaam, 65, had been reported missing from her home earlier that day.


New York governor Andrew Cuomo called Abdus-Salaam a "trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all." 

After graduating from Barnard College with her undergraduate degree in 1974, Abdus-Salaam attended Columbia Law School. Once graduating with her law degree, she first worked for Brooklyn Legal Services as a staff attorney and served in the New York State Department of Law before joining the bench. She served on the New York City Civil Court for only a year before becoming a New York Supreme Court justice. Ten years later, in 2013, she was nominated by Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, to fill a vacancy on the New York Court of Appeals; she was confirmed by a Republican-led Senate without opposition.

Abdus-Salaam often supported the underdog. The New York Times reported that Abdus-Salaam was “among the most reliable and steadfast liberal voices, regularly siding with vulnerable parties — the poor, impoverished immigrants and people with mental illnesses, for instance — against more powerful and established interests.”

"As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer," Cuomo said in a statement. "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."

Top photo via Barnard College

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Elissa Sanci is a twenty-something writer who's now a grad student studying journalism in New York because she was reluctant to start the real world. Besides drinking too much coffee and daydreaming about traveling the world, she spends most her time writing, reading and complaining about the weather. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @elissasanci.