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 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.

The US Supreme Court Considers the Scope of the Automobile Exception

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a case the US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear regarding the scope of the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. Colb explains the facts leading up to the controversy, the arguments on both sides, and the unusual nature of the case. Colb points out that the Court was likely motivated to hear the case to resolve a question the case does not even squarely present, namely whether the presence of a car in a driveway is a reason not to apply the automobile exception.

Concern About DeVos’s Rescission of Obama Policy on Campus Rape

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the decision by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind the Obama-era Title IX guidance on campus sexual assault because it allegedly denies due process to students accused of rape. While acknowledging specific instances where accused students have been treated poorly, Colb argues that the existing guidelines are eminently sensible and defensible and that rescinding them rather than editing or modifying them goes well beyond what is necessary to address concerns for accused students. Colb focuses on two commonly attacked features of campus policy—the preponderance of the evidence standard and the affirmative consent requirement—and explains why they are good policy.

Should the Law Permit Sexual Contact Between Police and Suspects?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the law in at least three states that permits police officers to have sexual contact with people they suspect of prostitution. Colb explains the rationale behind these laws and argues that under three prevailing philosophical approaches to the law—libertarian, feminist, and traditional morality-based—such contact should not be permissible.

Can Texas Require Separate Insurance Coverage For Abortion?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a recently passed Texas law that will require people who want insurance coverage for non-emergency abortions to buy an additional, separate policy from their regular health insurance policy. Colb explains that proponents of the law argue that individuals should not have to fund practices with which they fundamentally disagree, but she points out that many taxpayers provide funding for government activities with which they fundamentally disagree and this situation is arguably no different from those.

What the Charlie Gard Controversy Teaches Us About Parental Rights

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the controversy over Charlie Gard, an infant in England who was born with a rare genetic condition that is typically fatal in infancy or early childhood. Colb describes the legal journey of Charlie Gard and his parents and proposes ways in which the laws in the United Kingdom and the United States might inform each other.

California Considers Bill to Regulate (But Not Prohibit) Child Marriage

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments critically on a California bill that would regulate (but not prohibit) child marriage. Colb argues that the law, which in its current proposed form would allow parents and courts to give consent for a minor child to marry, disregards important norms about children’s rights and the importance of real consent to a sexual relationship.

When Should Encouraging Suicide Be a Crime?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent tragic incident in which a young man committed suicide under the encouragement via text message by his girlfriend. Colb considers whether her conviction by a Massachusetts judge of involuntary manslaughter was appropriate and just, and discusses some of the issues that her conviction raises, including free speech, the right to die, and traditional conceptions of causation and responsibility.

Supreme Court Considers Whether to Grant Privacy to Cell Tower Location Records

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers the reasoning behind an appeals court's allowing law enforcement to acquire, without a warrant or probable cause, cell phone records that include a user’s approximate location over a period of several months. Colb expresses relief that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider the issue so that we can know whether, by using a cell phone, we are thereby exposing our location to the police (and not just to our wireless service providers).

Texas House Approves a Doomed Abortion Law: Why?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses legislation recently approved by the Texas House that will almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutionally restricting women's right to seek an abortion prior to fetal viability. Colb explains that the legislation is more speech than it is law and discusses some possible reasons the state would want to “speak” in this manner.

A Fresh Look at Jury Nullification

In response to a recent episode of the podcast Radiolab that relates the story of a juror who was prosecuted for attempting jury nullification, Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers how we ought to think about the power of jurors to acquit for any reason. Colb explains what jury nullification is and describes some situations in which it is most clearly appropriate and some in which it is problematic. She also proposes a solution to address bias in all phases of the criminal process, rather than just prosecution and trial.

“Stealthing”: Is Secret Condom Removal Akin to Sexual Assault?

Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on “stealthing,” a practice in which men surreptitiously remove their condoms while having intercourse. Colb considers whether the practice is best characterized as sexual assault, as some have argued, or whether it is a different kind of harm that should be addressed through a different set of legal processes.