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

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.

A Police Shooting and the Power of Narratives

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes two different narrative lenses through which one could perceive (and interpret) the shooting of an unarmed African American man by a white police officer: the “Blue Lives Matter” narrative and the “Black Lives Matter” narrative. Colb explains how such narratives shape public reactions to such incidents, and she calls upon everyone to pay attention to the facts and feel less wedded to our narratives so that we may be better able to deal with and sometimes even prevent future hardship.

A Right to Abort a Full-Term “Fetus”?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on an abortion bill that is currently under consideration in Virginia, arguing that the bill would excessively liberalize abortion laws in that state. Colb, who is pro-choice, points out that pro-choice theorists and activists should discern exactly why they believe in the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and draw—rather than resist—rational distinctions between a ball of cells and a newborn baby.

“Implied Consent” and the Fourth Amendment Go To the US Supreme Court

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the US Supreme Court recently agreed to review raising the question whether a state statute may constitutionally conduct a blood test on an unconscious driver suspected of drunk driving under a theory of “implied consent.” Colb explains the meaning of “implied consent”—deceivingly named, for there is no actual consent—and predicts that, consistent with the Court’s recent precedent on a similar issue, the state statute should be struck down.

Who’s a Good Boy? US Supreme Court Considers Again Whether Dog Sniffs Are Searches

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case in which the US Supreme Court is considering whether to grant review that presents the question whether police must obtain a search warrant before bringing a trained narcotics dog to sniff at a person’s door for illicit drugs. Colb highlights some of the most interesting arguments on the issue and explains some of the nuances that make a clear answer more elusive in these cases.

Changing How We Think About Date Rape

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains how the Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA) program might help change the way we think about acquaintance rape and reduce the incidence of such rape and other similar sexual crimes. Colb points out some of the shortcomings of consent-focused education about rape and describes how EAAA addresses many of these shortcomings.

Larry Nassar and the Milgram Experiment

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the narrative of Kyle Stephens, a woman who was first abused by Dr. Larry Nassar when she was six years old, particularly as compared to the narratives of other women Nassar victimized. Colb points out that patients, parents, and law enforcement all give great deference to medical doctors, and Nassar recognized and took advantage of that deference to sexually assault so many women over such a great period of time.

The Politics of Interpreting a Drop in Abortion Rates

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control that reflects a decrease in the rate of abortions in the United States. Colb explores the various reasons why this might be the case, illustrating how such reasons might differ between pro-life and pro-choice perspectives, as well as offering her own take on the report's findings.

Rape and Confessions

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains how a better understanding of consent in a police interrogation context can inform our understanding of consent in a sexual context. Colb argues that the solution to both is to educate everyone more effectively about what will and will not successfully make things (the interrogation or the sexual activity) stop.

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.