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
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.

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.