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Fri, 03.14.1952

Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Attorney born

Sheila Abdus-Salaam

*Sheila Abdus-Salaam was born on this date in 1952.  She was a Black lawyer and associate judge on the New York Court of Appeals.

Born Sheila Turner in Washington, D.C., she grew up in a working-class family with six siblings; her great-grandfather was a slave in Virginia. She attended public schools and was a 1974 graduate of Barnard College and a 1977 graduate of Columbia Law School. She and future United States Attorney General Eric Holder were classmates at Columbia.

Abdus-Salaam took her first husband's surname and retained it during her professional career. Her second husband, James Hatcher, was the son of Andrew Hatcher, who worked as a press officer for John F. Kennedy. Her third husband, Gregory A. Jacobs, whom she married in June 2016, was an Episcopal priest within the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

Early in her career worked as a staff attorney for Brooklyn Legal Services. She also served as an assistant attorney general in the New York State Department of Law in the civil rights and real estate financing bureaus. She served on the New York City Civil Court from 1992 to 1993. She was also a New York Supreme Court justice from 1993 to 2009.

Governor David Paterson designated her as a justice for the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, in 2009. That same year Abdus-Salaam served as an associate justice of the appellate division. On April 5, 2013, following the death of judge Theodore T. Jones, she was nominated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to fill the resulting vacancy on the New York Court of Appeals.  She was confirmed without opposition by a voice vote held on May 6, 2013. She was the first Black woman to be appointed to a seat on New York's highest court.  While it was widely reported that she was the first Muslim to be a member of the New York Court of Appeals, she never converted to Islam.  Rather, she took her first husband's Islamic surname, according to Court of Appeals spokesman Gary Spencer.

She was seen as a liberal voice on the bench. In 2016, she wrote In Re Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth A. C.C., a landmark decision defending the rights of non-biological parents in same-sex partnerships to seek custody or visitation where the couple had decided to conceive and raise a child together.  Abdus-Salaam was found dead on the afternoon of April 12, 2017, near W. 132nd Street. Footage from a security camera on 131st Street showed Abdus-Salaam walking alone in the direction of the river at about 8:30 PM the previous night. Her fully clothed body was found floating in the Hudson River hours after she was reported missing from her home in Harlem.

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