Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar 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 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?. 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

The US Supreme Court Considers the Scope of the Automobile Exception

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear regarding the scope of the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Colb explains the facts leading up to the controversy, the arguments on both sides, and the unusual nature of the case. Colb points out that the Court was likely motivated to hear the case to resolve a question the case does not even squarely present, namely whether the presence of a car in a driveway is a reason not to apply the automobile exception.

Concern About DeVos’s Rescission of Obama Policy on Campus Rape

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind the Obama-era Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault because it allegedly denies due process to students accused of rape. While acknowledging specific instances where accused students have been treated poorly, Colb argues that the existing guidelines are eminently sensible and defensible and that rescinding them rather than editing or modifying them goes well beyond what is necessary to address concerns for accused students. Colb focuses on two commonly attacked features of campus policy—the preponderance of the evidence standard and the affirmative consent requirement—and explains why they are good policy.

Should the Law Permit Sexual Contact Between Police and Suspects?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the law in at least three states that permits police officers to have sexual contact with people they suspect of prostitution. Colb explains the rationale behind these laws and argues that under three prevailing philosophical approaches to the law—libertarian, feminist, and traditional morality-based—such contact should not be permissible.

Can Texas Require Separate Insurance Coverage For Abortion?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a recently passed Texas law that will require people who want insurance coverage for non-emergency abortions to buy an additional, separate policy from their regular health insurance policy. Colb explains that proponents of the law argue that individuals should not have to fund practices with which they fundamentally disagree, but she points out that many taxpayers provide funding for government activities with which they fundamentally disagree and this situation is arguably no different from those.

What the Charlie Gard Controversy Teaches Us About Parental Rights

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the controversy over Charlie Gard, an infant in England who was born with a rare genetic condition that is typically fatal in infancy or early childhood. Colb describes the legal journey of Charlie Gard and his parents and proposes ways in which the laws in the United Kingdom and the United States might inform each other.

California Considers Bill to Regulate (But Not Prohibit) Child Marriage

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments critically on a California bill that would regulate (but not prohibit) child marriage. Colb argues that the law, which in its current proposed form would allow parents and courts to give consent for a minor child to marry, disregards important norms about children’s rights and the importance of real consent to a sexual relationship.

When Should Encouraging Suicide Be a Crime?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent tragic incident in which a young man committed suicide under the encouragement via text message by his girlfriend. Colb considers whether her conviction by a Massachusetts judge of involuntary manslaughter was appropriate and just, and discusses some of the issues that her conviction raises, including free speech, the right to die, and traditional conceptions of causation and responsibility.

Supreme Court Considers Whether to Grant Privacy to Cell Tower Location Records

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the reasoning behind an appeals court's allowing law enforcement to acquire, without a warrant or probable cause, cell phone records that include a user’s approximate location over a period of several months. Colb expresses relief that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider the issue so that we can know whether, by using a cell phone, we are thereby exposing our location to the police (and not just to our wireless service providers).

Texas House Approves a Doomed Abortion Law: Why?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses legislation recently approved by the Texas House that will almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutionally restricting women's right to seek an abortion prior to fetal viability. Colb explains that the legislation is more speech than it is law and discusses some possible reasons the state would want to “speak” in this manner.

A Fresh Look at Jury Nullification

In response to a recent episode of the podcast Radiolab that relates the story of a juror who was prosecuted for attempting jury nullification, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers how we ought to think about the power of jurors to acquit for any reason. Colb explains what jury nullification is and describes some situations in which it is most clearly appropriate and some in which it is problematic. She also proposes a solution to address bias in all phases of the criminal process, rather than just prosecution and trial.

“Stealthing”: Is Secret Condom Removal Akin to Sexual Assault?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on “stealthing,” a practice in which men surreptitiously remove their condoms while having intercourse. Colb considers whether the practice is best characterized as sexual assault, as some have argued, or whether it is a different kind of harm that should be addressed through a different set of legal processes.

Texas Moves Toward Abolishing Wrongful Birth Suits

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a Texas bill currently under consideration that would eliminate the “wrongful birth” cause of action. Colb defines wrongful birth and points out that while its opponents argue that it encourages abortion, it actually encourages forthrightness and honesty among physicians, which should already be the standard of conduct. In fact, Colb argues, it is not the availability of a lawsuit that “encourages” abortion so much as the fact of the severe disability and the toll that this could take on their lives as well as on the life of the child whose birth is under consideration.

The Supreme Court Rejects Fake Facts in Capital Cases

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers one recent instance in which the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed a standard because it was factually more accurate than a prior standard, and several other instances in which the Court has done the opposite. Colb points out that, unfortunately, the law often seeks facts that facilitate a desired outcome rather than facts a more just or correct outcome.

Does the Juror Deliberation “Privilege” Work? Questioning the Supreme Court’s Assumptions

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a juror’s use of racial stereotypes to vote for conviction may be used to invalidate the verdict, despite evidentiary rules that otherwise prohibit the use of juror testimony to challenge a verdict. Colb argues that the Supreme Court should have either extended the Sixth Amendment exception to cover other types of juror misconduct, or repealed the rule that prohibits the use of post-verdict juror testimony to impeach a verdict.

How Race Changes Things: The Supreme Court’s Decision in Buck v. Davis

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines the how ineffective assistance of counsel and equal protection interact in cases involving race to produce results different from what might result from similar cases not involving race. Specifically, Colb looks at whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusion of ineffective assistance of counsel in Buck v. Davis would have been different if the issue of race had not been involved.

When a Conviction Is Reversed, Can the State Make the Defendant Prove Her Innocence?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that raises the issue whether a defendant whose conviction has been reversed may be required—without violating due process—to bring a separate civil action to prove her innocence in order to get a refund of the costs and fees imposed from her original conviction. Colb points out that the crux of the issue is whether the money sought to be returned is characterized as a refund or as compensation.

Is It “Reasonable” For Police to Kill Dogs in the Homes that they Search?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb critiques a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding that it was reasonable for police officers to kill two dogs in a home they searched. Colb first explains the facts behind the case and then argues that the police should have asked the dogs’ owner to subdue the dogs prior to the search, and that not doing so was unreasonable and led to the unnecessary killing of the dogs.