Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published articles in a variety of law reviews, including Stanford, Columbia, N.Y.U., and G.W., on such topics as privacy from police searches, incarceration, reproductive rights, and why courts are more offended by wrongdoing that results in concrete rather than abstract harm. Colb's most recent book, Beating Hearts: Abortion and Animal Rights (co-authored with Michael C. Dorf), addresses some of the common puzzles, themes, and challenges that animate and confront both the pro-life and animal rights movements. She has also published a book about sex equality in the Twenty-First Century, entitled When Sex Counts, and a book about veganism entitled Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger?, which is also available on Audible. Before beginning her career in law teaching, Colb clerked for Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court. She received her J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and her A.B. summa cum laude and valedictorian from Columbia College.

Columns by Sherry F. Colb
Vegan Food, Cultured Meat, and How to Change Hearts and Minds

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent episode of the podcast “Making Sense,” in which host Sam Harris talked with guests Bruce Friedrich and Liz Spech of the Good Food Institute about how we might all go about saving the world from climate disaster. Professor Colb notes a key point of discussion, that production and consumption of animal-based foods is a major contributor to the climate crisis, and argues that we just have to make ethical eating virtually identical to or better than unethical eating if we want to bring the vast majority of humanity along.

I Believe Dylan Farrow

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to the documentary mini-series called Allen v. Farrow, about Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and the allegations of sexual abuse that their daughter Dylan made against her father. Professor Colb explains why it seems plausible that the man who lied casually on the phone with his ex-girlfriend would be capable of doing whatever he wanted to do, whatever he thought (correctly) he could get away with.

How We Resist Positive Change

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ways in which we resist positive change; specifically, she describes her initial hesitation to becoming an ethical vegan and the rationalizations we use to justify resisting positive change. Professor Colb argues that animals are different from inanimate objects, and we must recognize that when anyone suffers, anyone regardless of species, we have an evil that rightly commands our attention and action.

Who Counts as a Jew?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Israel holding that people who have undergone Conservative or Reform conversions in Israel qualify as Jews under the Israeli Law of Return. Professor Colb explains the significance of this decision and explores some of the downsides that remain in the Israeli approach to who counts as a Jew.

Does Father Know Best When It Comes to Abortion?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a “father knows best” bill that the Tennessee state legislature is currently considering, which would allow the father of a pregnancy to obtain an injunction against the mother’s having an abortion. Professor Colb notes that while requiring consent of the pregnancy’s father might make intuitive sense and most abortion decisions do include the father, she points out that “father knows best” (and father notification) laws disregard the interests of the embryo/fetus (by giving a father a say in whether to proceed with an abortion) and redistribute control of reproduction from women to men. Professor Colb argues that for these reasons, the Tennessee bill is even more objectionable than an outright ban on the procedure would have been.

No Good Men?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a film called “Promising Young Women,” which purports to be a feminist movie about date rape. While Professor Colb describes the movie as interesting, thought-provoking, and “definitely” worth seeing, she argues that it suggests a view of men and sexual assault that is erroneous and potentially even anti-feminist.

Should the Law Prohibit Anti-Fat Discrimination?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the problem of fat discrimination and considers what a law of anti-fat discrimination might look like, and why it could be important. Professor Colb explores the similarities and differences between legally protected characteristics and fatness and expresses optimism that a change in law could persuade some individuals to recognize fat people for the colleagues, students, friends, partners, and neighbors that they are.

The Invisible Man and His Visible Victim

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a movie some have described as one of the best of 2020, The Invisible Man, and describes how the story in the movie offers possibilities for envisioning accountability for domestic violence and other crimes that often receive dismissive treatment under the heading of “he said/she said.” Professor Colb briefly describes the plot of the movie (including spoilers), and explains why the movie is so revelatory.

Can a Misdemeanor Count as an “Emergency” for Purposes of Skipping the Warrant?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court that presents the question whether the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applies when the suspect may have committed a misdemeanor, as opposed to a more serious crime. Colb argues that if the Court believes that a misdemeanor (or a particular misdemeanor) is not important enough to justify the invasion of a person’s home, then it ought perhaps to hold that the police officer in the present should not have entered the suspect’s home, period, with or without a warrant.

Pardonne-Moi

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the assumptions inherent in the executive pardon power and explains why the purpose of the presidential pardon forecloses the possibility of a self-pardon. Colb argues that the only person who would dare to try to grant a self-pardon—one who lacks empathy—is the very one who should not be exercising the pardon power at all.

How Mike Huckabee and Robert Bork Could Help Center Neil Gorsuch

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb analyzes an unusual comment by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that a government restriction on the size of people’s Thanksgiving gathering would violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures. Colb describes a similar statement (in a different context) by conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork during his (unsuccessful) confirmation hearings in 1987 and observes from that pattern a possibility that even as unenumerated rights are eroded, the Court might be creative in identifying a source of privacy rights elsewhere in the Constitution.

The Mask Slips: Standing, the Affordable Care Act, and Hypocrisy in High Places

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers one aspect of the oral argument in California v. Texas, the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act to come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Specifically, Colb considers the way in which some of the Justices talked during the oral argument about the doctrine of judicial standing, and she calls out those Justices’ hypocrisy as to that issue.

What Is a Seizure, and What Is a Holding? The Court Hears Argument in Torres v. Madrid

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on two particular aspects of a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument last month, Torres v. Madrid. First, Colb discusses the distinction, for Fourth Amendment purposes, between touching someone directly with one’s hands and touching someone indirectly using an inanimate object. Second, she explains the difference between holding and dicta in a court opinion. Using these two points as illustrations, Colb shows how flexible the Constitution can be, lending itself to very different interpretations.

He Said/She Said, Save Our Sons, and the Stories that Stick: Part Two of a Two-Part Series of Columns

In this second in a series of columns on the U.S. Department of Education’s recent push toward a higher burden of proof in determinations of sexual harassment or assault under Title IX, Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb suggests that gendered narratives play a role in people’s willingness to regard an acquaintance rape case as “he said/she said.” Colb describes several examples in which people prefer a story that confirms a pre-existing bias over truth based on evidence.

He Said/She Said, Save Our Sons, and the Stories that Stick: Part One of a Two-Part Series of Columns

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s recent push toward a higher burden of proof in determinations of sexual harassment or assault under Title IX. In this first part, Colb suggests that men who say “not guilty” in response to a sexual assault accusation are not especially credible and that we accordingly need an explanation for why people find the accuser’s words equally lacking in credibility (and therefore call the dispute a “he said/she said” dilemma for the factfinder).

Incorrigibility of the Juvenile Offender

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court will consider this term that presents the question whether the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits sentencing a juvenile offender to life without the possibility of parole. Colb considers the wisdom and constitutionality of imposing such a sentence on a person who was under 18 at the time of his crime.

The Right to Be Judged by What You Do, Not Who You Are

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the case for occasionally including status—“who you are”—in assigning blame in criminal matters. Colb explains that generally, our penal system prohibits “status offenses,” but sometimes, such as in the case of psychopaths, we are comfortable deciding how to punish a person based at least in part on who they are.

Drafted and Shafted: Who Should Complain About Male-Only Registration?

Cornell law professor comments on a recent opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit holding that requiring men but not women to register for the draft is constitutional under mandatory U.S. Supreme Court precedents. Specifically, Colb considers what the U.S. Supreme Court should do if it agrees to hear the case and more narrowly, whether the motives of the plaintiffs in that case bear on how the case should come out.

#MeToo and What Men and Women Are Willing to Say and Do

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores why people have such strong feelings about the #MeToo movement (whether they are advocates or opponents) and suggests that both sides rest their positions on contested empirical assumptions about the behavior of men and women. Colb argues that what we believe to be true of men and women generally contributes to our conclusions about the #MeToo movement and our perceptions about how best to handle the accusations of those who come forward.