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
Same-Sex Couples, Identical Twins, and the Text of Title VII: Point-Counterpoint

Cornell law 3L Jareb Gleckel and professor Sherry F. Colb discuss, in point-counterpoint style, one aspect of the legal issue presented in Altitude Express v. Zarda—in which the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees based on sexual orientation. Gleckel argues that sexual orientation discrimination does not qualify as sex discrimination under the text of Title VII and describes a hypothetical example in support of his argument. In response, Colb first addresses Gleckel’s formalistic argument and then contends, even assuming Gleckel’s premise to be true, that because the policy at issue in Zarda discriminates between men and women both formally and in a manner that inflicts a gender-relevant injury, it violates the text of Title VII.

Are Open Door Policies Cost-Justified?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a minority practice by a number of male faculty at law schools and other institutions of announcing an “open door” policy in their offices, purportedly to protect against false accusations of sexual assault or sexual harassment. For purposes of discussion, Colb steps into the role of a hypothetical male faculty member who has such a policy, and then stepping back out of role, she discusses the pros and cons of such policies.

What Insanity and Animal Welfare Have in Common

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb why the question whether a state may abolish the insanity defense (presently before the Supreme Court) is similar to the question whether a state should adopt so-called animal welfare laws. Colb argues that both the insanity defense and animal welfare measures provide the public with a sense of moral relief but only if we willfully ignore the reality of how animals and criminal defendants are treated.

When Criminal Defendants Tell You Who They Are

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the rationale behind Federal Rule of Evidence 609, which allows for impeachment of criminal defendants’ testimony with prior convictions, and the seminal cases applying that rule. Colb explains why the jury’s reaction to evidence of prior convictions is both predictable and irrational.

How to Detect a Liar

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to a colleague’s claim (yet unconfirmed) that jurors have an easier time distinguishing truth from falsehood when they read a transcript of testimony than when they listen to and watch the testimony directly. Assuming the claim is true, Colb describes why that claim might at first be surprising and also why, on further consideration, it makes sense. She proposes that if the claim is true, we ought perhaps to consider whether the distractors inherent in live testimony should excludable under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Explaining Why Dairy Won’t Share the Word “Milk”

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a battle over what products may carry the label “milk.” Colb proposes that the dairy industry opposes plant-based milks (such as soy milk or almond milk) from identifying their products using the word “milk” not because of any real risk of confusing consumers or market harm, but as a show of dominance in response to exposed vulnerability.

Is Physical Liberty an Important Right?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.

A Critical (Non-Dershowitz) Look at Statutory Rape Laws

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb cautions against using a disgust reaction alone to justify legislation—particularly legislation involving criminal penalties. Colb points out that disgust can sometimes help us determine that something bad is in fact going on, but we should not to allow disgust to power our moral choices without interrogation.

You’re So Vague, You Probably Think This Law’s Not About You

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers when the void-for-vagueness doctrine, which has a due process component, does and does not make sense. Colb argues that differences in the length of a criminal sentence have little or no deterrence effect, so imposing long sentences as an attempt to deter crimes is a waste of resources.

President Yertle’s Wall

Cornell Law 3L Jareb A. Gleckel and professor Sherry F. Colb argue that President Trump’s overarching goal in his presidency is not to benefit the country but to create a legacy for himself, and a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border would be the pinnacle of such a legacy. Gleckel and Colb draw a comparison to Dr. Seuss’s character Yertle the Turtle, who had similar lofty ambitions, and call upon Americans to expose the President’s true motives and thus undercut his malign pursuits.

The Court That Cried “Exigency”

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb and George R. El-Khoury, JD, comment on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last month applying the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement to permit the admission in evidence of a blood-alcohol test administered on an unconscious driver. Colb and El-Khoury describe some of the problems with using the exigent circumstances exception to arrive at the result in this case and propose some alternative approaches that might yield the same outcome but for stronger reasons.

Is Tyson Foods “Less Meat” (But Not “Meatless”) Good for the Animals?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on Tyson Foods’ recent entrance into the meat reduction market, selling so-called blended products that contain both meat and plants. Colb discusses some of the possible harms and benefits of Tyson’s decision from the perspective of an ethical vegan consumer.

What Makes Self-Defense Justifiable?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the criminal defenses of self-defense and defense of others and considers what role emotions should and do play in society’s assessment of whether a person’s violent conduct is justified and thus not criminally punishable. Colb argues that fear, rather than anger, most clearly motivates legitimate uses of self-defense or defense of others, but the mere fact of the victim’s anger (which might be present in addition to fear) should not necessarily mean the victim is criminally culpable.

Does the Constitution Require the Insanity Defense?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a question the U.S. Supreme Court will consider next term—whether the U.S. Constitution prohibits a state’s abolition of the insanity defense. Colb points out the various ways in which our current criminal justice system arbitrarily excuses some sources of criminal conduct but not others, and she argues that because of these inconsistencies already inherent in the system, the insanity defense cannot logically be required.

What’s Missing in the Alabama Human Life Protection Act?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ideological inconsistencies with the abortion law recently passed in Alabama, which prohibits all abortions except those necessary to protect against a serious health risk to the pregnant woman. Colb points out if an embryo or fetus and the woman carrying it are equally entitled to exist, then the exception for the serious health risk to the woman is inconsistent with that perceived equality. Colb also argues that the decision of Alabama lawmakers to penalize the abortion provider but not the abortion seeker similarly requires accepting on some level that a woman and her embryo or fetus are not co-equal occupants, which is inconsistent with the pro-life vision behind Alabama’s law.

Should Police Need a Search Warrant to Chalk Tires and Discover Illegal Parking?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding unconstitutional the use of chalk by police officers to track whether a parked car has remained longer than permissible. Colb considers whether the decision—which seems to faithfully apply the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Jones v. United States and Florida v. Jardines—falls short of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test the Court established in Katz v. United States. Colb proposes a test that instead combines trespass, information-gathering, as well as some privacy interest in that information, arguing that such a test would better reflect the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

Supreme Court Takes a Case About Jury Unanimity

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court recently granted review, Ramos v. Louisiana, which presents the question whether states may permit conviction of an accused criminal on less than a unanimous jury voting “guilty.” Colb explains the doctrine of incorporation—by which most provisions of the Bill of Rights are held to be applicable as against the states as well as the federal government through the Fourteenth Amendment—and explains the possible significance of a unanimous jury verdict.