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 Does #BelieveWomen Mean?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains what #BelieveWomen means—that society should stop being presumptively skeptical of women who report sexual misconduct—as well as what the movement does not mean. Colb points out that to believe women does not mean to criminally convict the accused and bypass constitutional safeguards; rather, it means to treat their testimony the same as society and the law treat all other testimony—as presumptively credible. Colb argues that if we make systemic changes to the way we treat women reporting sexual misconduct, starting with initial contact with the police, these changes could translate into more widespread reforms in the courtroom and prosecution of sexual offenders.

Evaluating a Rape List

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a wiki document allegedly started by a group of students at the University of Washington last year that allows people to make anonymous accusations of rape or sexual abuse by posting the names of alleged assailants. Colb explains the reasons behind the list, as well as the problems the list poses, and concludes that while the list is not perfect, it may be the only form of justice available to victims under a system that fails to prosecute and convict acquaintance rapists in earnest.

Girls…Will Not…Replace Us

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb argues that some people's belief in the trivial nature of sexual assault may go hand in hand with the belief that it never happened. Colb examines the relationship between denial and devaluation in other contexts, as well as in the context of gender oppression, and finds consistency in the thinking of people who hate or otherwise persecute others.

A Picnic, A Jew, and the Surrender of Critical Judgment

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb observes that we as a society have become extremely credulous for an era of cynicism and that we as individuals have divested ourselves of critical judgment, preferring instead to defer to people who share our political ideology or qualify for special status for some other reason. Colb considers what might be driving this deference and how we can combat it. She points out that constructive disagreement is healthy and that “viewpoints are not violence, disagreement is not hatred, and no one has a patent on the truth.”

“Factory Farming”: An Evolving Phrase

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the evolution of the phrase “factory farming” from its original meaning of animal agriculture generally, to a much narrower (and less meaningful) definition today. Colb points out that descriptors of so-called “humane” animal agriculture practices—organic, local, sustainable, grass fed, cage free, and similar phrases—are not meaningfully better than the supposedly evil factory farming. Colb draws an analogy to the misogynist’s argument that “violent rape” is distinguishable and “worse” than other types of rape.

Why I Do Not Give Trigger Warnings

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the recent trend among professors to give “trigger warnings” prior to discussing sensitive materials with students and explains why she has chosen not to provide such warnings to her students. Colb points out that there is no reliable evidence that the warnings work as advertised; rather, they might actually do more harm than good. Colb concludes that an education necessarily means encountering ideas and theories that do not sit well with what one already believes, and students should not have the right to skip days or receive warnings when professors will be talking about unwelcome facts or theories.

A Law in Austria That Would Have Forced Jews and Muslims to Register for Meat

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains the controversy over a proposed (but failed) law in Austria that would have regulated the consumption of Kosher and Halal meat in Lower Austria, one of nine states in that country. Colb points out that the law could not have achieved its purported purpose, to promote the welfare of animals, because it would have permitted animals to be slaughtered at all. Rather, it would have required that religious Jews and Muslims register with the government—just as they were required to do under Nazi rule. Colb also observes that while the law invidiously targeted religious Jews and Muslims, no one seemed to consider that the intended targets could avoid the law altogether by becoming vegans.

Would a Feminist Oppose the Right to Choose?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers some of the self-described pro-life feminists’ arguments against abortion rights and argues that an anti-choice position on abortion is not only not feminist, but contrary to feminism. Colb argues that a zygote—a mere collection of cells—is not a child and would have no claim to the inside of a woman’s body even if it were; thus, a full feminist would recognize these simple truths and would be pro-choice.

Collins v. Virginia: An Innocuous, Fourth Amendment Decision About Curtilage

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s precedents recognizing, yet not clearly defining, “curtilage”—the area near one’s house that is constitutionally protected against warrantless searches by law enforcement. As Colb explains, the Court’s cases involving curtilage, including its recent decision in Collins v. Virginia leave many Fourth Amendment questions unanswered.

Carpenter and the Beginning of the End of Privacy

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carpenter v. United States, in which the Court held that the government must have a search warrant to obtain an individual’s cell-site location information (CSLI). Colb describes the Court’s holding and the dissenting opinions, and considers the Court’s minority (but growing) view that only property, and not privacy, is protected under the US Constitution—particularly when privacy rights encompass the right of a woman to obtain an abortion and the right of same-sex couples to engage in private, consensual sexual acts.

Rental Cars, Privacy, and Suppression of Evidence

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in Byrd v. United States, in which the Court unanimously held that a lawful but contractually unauthorized driver of a rental car has a reasonable expectation of privacy against police searches of the car. Colb explains that the Court’s ruling is significant for more than its face value; it signals a rejection of property-linked formalism and bolsters the ability of the Fourth Amendment to keep certain types of police in check.

The Irish Pro-Choice Vote and Empathy

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the outcome of a recent vote in Ireland repealing that country’s ban on nearly all abortions and explains why empathy for opposing perspectives is important on abortion and other issues, such as animal rights. An ethical vegan, Colb shares her own experience of learning to be empathic when people make untenable arguments in favor of violence toward nonhuman animals.

The Perceived Threat of Trans Identity

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the reasons behind some people’s refusal to refer to trans men as men and trans women as women. Colb describes some of the concrete harms caused by such refusal, such as policies sending trans women to prisons for the wrong gender—a policy Colb argues violates the Eighth Amendment under the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.

Rape, Racism, Free Speech, and Fraternities

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb examines two (real, but slightly altered) conversations in order to explore the thoughts and feelings that might affect the weight we give to principles that support our positions, while disregarding the same principles when they run contrary to our positions. Colb describes the interrelatedness of conversations that arise regarding rape, racism, and free speech, specifically in the context of college fraternities, but applicable to many other situations.

The San Francisco Fur Ban

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb analyzes some of the assumptions implicit in a fur ban, as San Francisco recently implemented, including the view that fur is a luxury while leather is a necessity and the view that wild animals have a right to live while farm animals do not. Colb explains why these distinctions are nonsensical and calls upon proponents of the fur ban to let people know that there is plenty of vegan food in San Francisco and elsewhere, and that no one needs to spend another moment participating in cruelty to animals.

United Airlines and the Milgram Experiment

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent incident involving a French bulldog puppy dying in-flight when the flight attendant allegedly insisted that the carrier containing the dog be put in the overhead bin. Colb provides one possible explanation for the incident in terms of human behavior as observed in the famous Milgram experiment, in which subjects obeyed directions from an authority figure to administer increasingly strong electric shocks to another person despite experiencing moral distress at doing so.

Are Animal Rights and Human Rights in Tension?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers four ways in which human rights successes might seem to impede the progress of animal rights (and vice versa) and explains why none of these four ways stands up to critical analysis. Colb concludes that a commitment to human rights is perfectly consistent with an embrace of animal rights and that rather than being in conflict, to support one without the other is incoherent.

Do Defendants Have the Right to Make Bad Decisions?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the case before the US Supreme Court, McCoy v. Louisiana, in which the Court will decide whether a criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to stop his attorney from announcing to a jury that his client killed the victims for whose murder he is standing trial. Colb considers the argument that the lawyer's behavior constituted deficient performance counsel and argues that in that case, the defendant's conviction should be reversed and remanded for a new trial.