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

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.

What Miranda Can Teach Us About Sexual Consent

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb compares the requirement that police officers advise suspects in custody of their Miranda rights with the proposal that we as a society adopt a "Yes means yes" requirement for sexual consent. Colb describes how many of the fears about Miranda never actually came to fruition and points out how both the strengths and weaknesses of Miranda can help us to figure out how best to design the rules defining sexual assault.

Does the Automobile Exception to the Warrant Requirement Extend to Private Driveways?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a question raised, but most likely not to be decided, in a criminal procedure case currently before the US Supreme Court. That case, Collins v. Virginia addresses the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, and Colb explores some reasons for eliminating the automobile exception altogether.

Did the Sexual Revolution Cause the Sexual Misconduct Revealed by #MeToo?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the claim by some people that the increase in accusations and occurrences of rape and other sexual misconduct is attributable to the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and mid-1970s. Colb points out that both rape and sexual misconduct existed well before the sexual revolution, and in fact the legal system until very recently either condoned or made it very difficult to prove rape (and categorically excluded the possibility of marital rape). In contrast, the sexual revolution was about liberating consenting adults to have sex with one another and giving women ownership over their own bodies.

Why Justice Gorsuch May Have Avoided the Word “Privacy” at the Carpenter Oral Argument

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the recent oral argument in Carpenter v. United States, in which the US Supreme Court will consider whether the Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a warrant before demanding that a cell phone service provider reveal location data about a target’s phone for a certain period of time. Colb notes that during oral argument, the Court’s newest justice, Justice Neil Gorsuch, conspicuously avoided using the word “privacy”—a choice that Colb suggests reflects his views on substantive due process and the rights that flow from that constitutional principle, such as abortion and physician assistance in dying.

Why “Believing Women” Has Been a Challenging Task

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why it is so difficult for society as a whole to believe women’s accounts of sexual assault and harassment. Colb argues that the first step in developing solutions is for society, and particularly men, to admit that many (if not all) of these claims are true, and once that happens, then one has to either say that such behavior is acceptable or unambiguously condemn the behavior. Assuming that one rightfully condemns the behavior, Colb points out that the next step is to investigate the claims and impose whatever penalties are appropriate.

A Tax Deduction for Unborn Children: Should Pro-Choice Advocates Have Worried?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a provision of the proposed statute in the House version of the latest tax reform bill that would have allowed expectant parents to take a tax deduction on college fund investments for their offspring. Colb notes the negative response to this provision among pro-choice advocates as a result of how the provision’s language equates a fetus with a child. While acknowledging the worry among abortion rights proponents that such wording might provide a legal foundation for future attempts to restrict women’s rights to terminate their pregnancies, Colb counters this concern by explaining why it is unlikely that the language in the tax bill would have any effect on the legal status of abortion.

Considering a New York Bill to Legalize Compensated Surrogacy

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers some pros and cons of legalizing and enforcing gestational surrogacy agreements, as the New York State legislature is currently considering doing. Colb points out that legalizing these agreements would help clean up the patchwork of different surrogacy laws in different states (and thus make the outcome of conflicts more predictable), but she also notes that government endorsement of surrogacy may perpetuate or ignore related issues of equality and born children seeking adoption.

The Lessons of Sex-Selection Abortion

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb reviews Sital Kalantry’s book Women's Human Rights and Migration: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States and India. Colb explains how the book taught her a new way to think about an area in which Colb herself already has extensive knowledge. Colb praises Kalantry for taking an empirically supported look at the practice of sex-selection abortions in the United States and elsewhere and for drawing sophisticated conclusions about the proper place for regulation on the basis of that scrutiny.