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
What If Edwards v. Vannoy Had Gone the Other Way?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Vannoy, in which it held that a prisoner may not invoke the denial of his Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury as a basis for challenging his criminal conviction when filing a federal habeas corpus petition. Professor Colb explains why, if cost/benefit analysis played a role in determining retroactivity, the Court perhaps should have decided that case the other way.

#BillCosby Is Still #Guilty

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Bill Cosby’s conviction for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand. Professor Colb makes clear that the court’s actions in that case do not exonerate Bill Cosby; rather, it remains true that a jury of his peers convicted him of sexual assault based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

United States v. Briggs: The Court Reaches a Wrong but Just Result

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this term holding that the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) contains no statute of limitations for rape. Professor Colb argues that the Court stretched the language of the statute to reach a “desirable” decision, demonstrating that judges at all levels can interpret a statute to reach the result they want to reach.

Should Vegans “Force” Their Children to Be Vegan?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent interview in which actor Joaquin Phoenix, who is vegan, said that he would not “force” his nine-month-old son River to be vegan, though he hoped he would be. Professor Colb explores why the question and his answer have provoked strong responses among vegan activists and offers an alternative understanding of his statement that supports, rather than undermines, veganism.

The U.S. Supreme Court Takes a Step toward Defunding the Police

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caniglia v. Strom, holding that police may not enter a private home to perform a “community caretaking” function without having a search warrant. Professor Colb suggests that by recognizing limits on the authority of law enforcement officers to enter a home without a warrant in these circumstances, the Court may be implicitly adopting the message of “defunding the police” by reallocating a non-police function to better-suited responders, such as social workers or mental health experts.

Justice Thomas Calls Out Liberals for Distinguishing Incarceration from Pregnancy

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to an observation made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence in his concurring opinion in Jones v. Mississippi, noting an ostensible inconsistency in the language liberals use in discussing incarceration, as compared to pregnancy. Professor Colb acknowledges the face value of Justice Thomas’s point—that liberals refer to minors seeking an abortion as “women” and minors facing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) as “children”—but she points out that the difference in terminology reflects a consistent view that minors are not fully developed and should not be forced to do irreversible “adult” things like carry a pregnancy to term or serve a mandatory LWOP sentence.

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.