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
Alito and the Free Exercise of Christianity

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s July 28 keynote address at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome, Italy. Professor Colb explains why Alito’s characterization of the Holocaust as a denial of religious liberty is untrue and misleading, and she points out that he uses his position of power to impose a specific brand of Christianity on unwilling people.

“Pro-Life”: Delta Variant

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb considers what it means for many of today’s anti-abortion advocates to criminalize not only abortion providers but the person seeking to obtain an abortion as well. Professor Colb argues that this latest iteration of the anti-abortion movement is about turning women into public property subject to rape and then to reproductive servitude for the community.

Impregnable

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the history and understanding of the word “impregnable,” particularly the gendered nature of the word and what it says about our perception of pregnancy. Professor Colb suggests ways in which our society could make women “impregnable” and thus more equal to men, who are quite literally impregnable.

Happy the Elephant and Might Makes Right

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision last week by the New York Court of Appeals dismissing a lawsuit that sought to free Happy the elephant from life as a caged attraction at the Bronx Zoo. Professor Colb rebuts the common argument that while humans are capable of fulfilling moral responsibilities and therefore have rights, nonhuman animals are incapable of fulfilling moral responsibilities and therefore lack rights.

Are Religious Abortions Protected?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores a suggestion by some pro-choice advocates that a “religious abortion” might serve as a workaround to the apparently imminent demise of the constitutional right to abortion. Professor Colb explains why that workaround is unlikely to prevail: the current Court discounts the Establishment Clause, and its ostensible embrace of the Free Exercise Clause is actually friendliness only to conservative Christianity (and to Judaism and Islam where the traditions happen to be the same).

Alito, Rape, and Incest

In light of the recently leaked draft of a majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that would overrule Roe v. Wade, Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the Mississippi law at issue, which lacks an exception for instances of rape incest. Professor Colb suggests that Justice Alito has been waiting to overrule Roe at least since the Supreme Court reversed his decision as an appeals court judge in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, thereby giving voice to his Catholic belief that a zygote could reasonably be characterized as an “unborn child.”

Vega v. Tekoh and the Supreme Court’s Conceptual Confusion

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that presents the question whether a plaintiff may sue a police officer for an interrogation that violates the rules announced in Miranda v. Arizona and results in a statement that the prosecution introduces at the plaintiff’s trial, which ends in acquittal. Professor Colb argues that whether one views adherence to Miranda as a constitutional requirement or instead as a prophylactic sub-constitutional practice should have little bearing on the outcome of the case.

Taking the Liberation Pledge

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes the “liberation pledge”—a commitment to consume only vegan food and clothing and refrain from eating anything while in the company of people who are eating animals and/or the secretions of animals. Professor Colb explains the reasoning behind the pledge and suggests that one way of fulfilling the second part of the pledge in a nonconfrontational would be to invite non-vegan friends to share in a vegan meal.

Abortion and Physician Assistance in Dying

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the relationship between the abortion right and the right to physician assistance in dying, neither of which she predicts will enjoy constitutional protection under the religious extremist majority that now rules the Supreme Court. Professor Colb points out that religious extremists oppose both rights based on a view that God alone decides when we live and die.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Redux and the Homophobia Exemption from Anti-Discrimination Law

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review that presents the question whether the application of a state anti-discrimination law to a web designer who wishes to exclude same-sex couples from her services violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Professor Colb predicts that the Court is likely to hold that the law as applied to the web designer does violate her free speech right—continuing a pattern of almost exclusively granting homophobes special First Amendment exemptions from anti-discrimination law.

We Need to Talk About Psychopaths

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the television mini-series, “We Need to Talk About Cosby,” which tells the story of Bill Cosby as both beloved celebrity and shadowy rapist. Professor Colb praises the mini-series but suggests that it would have been even better if it had also featured a psychiatrist explaining that all the sweetness and warmth and wit that made America fall in love with Cosby was not the “good” in a cost/benefit analysis of his life, but the bait that allowed him to carry out his career of serial rape on unsuspecting women.

Fishgate and Schadenfreude

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on recent reports that New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who identifies as a vegan, sometimes eats fish. Professor Colb, an ethical vegan, points out that in her opinion, being a vegan means trying to keep the products of animal exploitation and slaughter out of one’s life to the extent that one can do so, and we should celebrate Mayor Adams’s substantial success in doing that rather than criticize his (alleged) failure to do it perfectly.

Forced Pregnancy, Homophobia, and Child Marriage: How Religion Enables Abuse

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb describes how religion gives an air of respectability to many cruel and reprehensible practices, such as forcing people to carry pregnancies to term, homophobia, and child marriage. Professor Colb argues that Americans’ commitment to “respecting everyone’s religion,” however coercive, violent, or misogynistic, precludes an actual respect for the bodily integrity, liberty, and privacy of women, LGBTQI+ people, and girls.

Remembering Brett Kavanaugh

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb praises Ruth Marcus’s 2019 book, Supreme Ambition, about Brett Kavanaugh’s rise to power and the events that took place after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexual assault. Professor Colb notes that the book is engaging even for someone who closely followed the events as they occurred, and reflects on the trauma of living (and reliving) through that disillusioning period in our nation’s recent history.

How Medical Abortion Challenges the Practice and the Moral Condemnation of Ending a Pregnancy

In response to the December 16 announcement that, Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explains the significance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s December 16 announcement that it is permanently allowing doctors to administer medical abortions by telemedicine and through the mail. Professor Colb describes why the change is likely to make terminating a pregnancy more accessible and affordable and less dangerous, and she argues that medical abortion also challenges one ethical argument some anti-abortion advocates have raised.

What the Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict Tells Us About Domestic Violence

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb reflects on what the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse tells us about domestic violence and society’s expectations based on gender. Professor Colb argues that the law of self-defense, especially as it is developing away from the duty to retreat, demonstrates gender inequality within the criminal justice system by favoring testosterone-fueled vigilantes over the women who choose to survive rather than succumb to domestic violence.

Abortion Pride?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why “abortion pride”—in the sense of coming out about having had an abortion—can help eliminate the shame and stigma associated with the procedure. Professor Colb points out that just as gay pride is more than simply pride in one’s sexual attractions but the creation of a community of people with like experiences, abortion pride can potentially reduce the need for specially designated support groups and help them chat unselfconsciously with other people with similar experiences.

Texas SB8: A Cooperative Venture for Rapists and the State of Texas

In light of next week’s oral argument in a high-profile case involving the federal government’s challenge to a restrictive Texas abortion law, Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains what we can learn from the law’s failure to grant an exception to its near-absolute prohibition against abortion for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Professor Colb argues that by refusing to permit the women of Texas to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape and by simultaneously allowing lawsuits against those assisting such terminations, the state of Texas deputizes a rapist to forcibly impose an entire pregnancy upon the victim of his choice.

The Pro-Life Story of How Babies Are Made

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to some of the consensus views among pro-life advocates that reflect how they understand pregnancy. Professor Colb debunks the illogical argument that a zygote is a person and explains why the view of pregnancy as merely the placement of a zygote “somewhere” (i.e., inside a woman) to grow into a person is simplistic and misogynistic.