Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the concept of “conditional irrelevance”—which she first identified in a law review article in 2001—and explains why the concept is useful for understanding the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Glover. Through the lens of conditional irrelevance, Colb explains why the knowledge of one fact (that the owner of the vehicle in that case lacked a valid license) should not itself provide police reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on case in which Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) brought a civil damages suit on behalf of an abused horse, now named Justice, against the horse’s former owner. Colb dismantles three arguments critics raise in opposition to recognizing abused animals as plaintiffs in lawsuits such as this one.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb proposes the psychological effects of the “silent treatment” as a possible reason that arrested individuals who understand their Miranda rights nevertheless confess to the police. Rather than seeking to dispute or displace other explanations of the phenomenon, Colb suggests that when police leave a suspect alone in his cell, he may experience their exit as the silent treatment and confess as an attempt to end it.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers whether an explanation for the affection dogs express for their humans might be explained by the Stockholm Syndrome, the condition that afflicts many kidnapped people and other abuse victims in which they form an attachment, sometimes called a trauma bond, that manifests as seeking the abuser’s approval and craving closeness rather than trying to escape. Colb argues that even though pet owners might not intend abuse, the unpredictable repetition of house arrest and silent treatment, followed by intermittent returns, might amount to abuse in the minds of these animals we hold as pets.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb reflects on why, if God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and benevolent, there is still evil in the world. Colb argues that one common answer—free will—does not truly resolve that question.
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.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses blackmail and the paradox of coercion, that is, the phenomenon where the law permits two different actions but prohibits a person from making one action a condition of the other. Colb proposes that our laws should evolve over time toward a framework that is less and less supportive of coercion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.