Hon. Sheila Abdus-Salaam: First African American Woman Appointed to the New York State High Court

In 2021, the Society is celebrating Black History Month every month, spending the year looking back at the impact of Black New Yorkers on the legal history of the state.

In celebration of our continuing series Every Month is Black History Month and in honor of Women’s History Month, we remember Hon. Shelia Abdus-Salaam. Shelia Abdus-Salaam was born in Washington, D.C., to working-class parents and educated in the city’s public schools. Upon earning her high school diploma, Judge Abdus-Salaam attended and graduated from Barnard College and Columbia University School of Law.

She began her judicial career with her election to the Civil Court of the City of New York in 1991. In 1993, she was elected to the Supreme Court of the State of New York for New York County and remained with the Court until 2009, when Governor David A. Paterson appointed her to the Appellate Division, First Department.  In 2013, Judge Abdus-Salaam became the first African American woman appointed to the bench of the New York Court of Appeals when Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate. After her nomination, the then-Justice said, “I have sought to uphold the laws of our state and treat all those who appear before me fairly and with respect and dignity. This nomination presents me with an opportunity to continue to serve New Yorkers and advocate for justice and fairness.”

During her short tenure on the Court of Appeals, Judge Abdus-Salaam accomplished her goal. In a statement following her colleague’s passing, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore stated:

“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. Sheila’s smile could light up the darkest room. The people of New York can be grateful for her distinguished public service.”


Catch up on the rest of our Every Month is Black History Month posts.
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