Sheila Abdus-Salaam

Queer Ally and First Muslim Woman Judge in U.S. History Found Dead in the Hudson River

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Muslim woman to serve as a judge in the United States, was found dead in the Hudson River on Wednesday.

The chief of detectives for the New York police said that her death is not considered suspicious, according to CNN, and the investigation suggests a possible suicide.

NYPD officers found her early yesterday afternoon in response to a report of a person floating by the shore near West 132nd Street in Manhattan, the New York Times says. Her body showed no signs of trauma.

Her husband reported her missing on Tuesday, CBS New York writes.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a post about Abdus-Salaam’s death on Twitter. He called her “a trailblazing jurist and a force for good.”

A Trailblazer

Sheila Abdus-Salaam broke ground in many ways. She was the first Muslim woman to serve as a judge in the United States. She was also the first black woman on New York’s top court.

The New York Times spoke glowingly of her legal legacy, praising her compassionate judgment:

On the court, Judge 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. She also tended to lean toward injured parties who brought claims of misconduct, fraud or breach of contract against wealthy corporations.

An LGBTQ Ally

Judge Abdus-Salaam resided over an important court case that opened up the legal definition of family to queer parents. In a 2016 custody battle between a split lesbian couple, Judge Abdus-Salaam wrote that the “foundational premise of heterosexual parenting and nonrecognition of same-sex couples is unsustainable, particularly in light of the enactment of same-sex marriage in New York state.” The court ruled that former same-sex couples have the right to seek visitation and custody of a child even when they are not the biological or adoptive parent.