Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Until her death in August 2022, Sherry F. Colb was the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb taught courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She 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 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
Abortion in Texas and Middle-School Bullying

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes how Texas’s abortion statute SB8 is similar to middle-school bullying in the way that it scares everyone into persecuting or shunning anyone who associates with a woman seeking an abortion. Professor Colb explains that by creating “untouchables,” the law compels everyone—even those who are not opposed to abortion—to avoid having anything to do with a woman who has had or is seeking to have an abortion.

Abortion and the Adoption Option

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to the anti-abortion argument that anyone who does not want to keep a baby can and should give them up for adoption. Professor Colb points out that the pain and discomfort associated with carrying a child to term are tolerable only if one wants to keep the resulting baby; if one does not want or cannot keep a child, then pregnancy is intimate and intense suffering in a way that may be intolerable for the woman.

Texas Plays Chess with Pro-Choice Pawns

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a blatantly unconstitutional Texas anti-abortion law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to enjoin, pointing out the unusual structure of the legislation and the hypocrisy of “conservatives” who support it. Noting from the outset that the so-called heartbeat to which the legislation refers is not from an actual heart, but pulsing, undifferentiated cells, Professor Colb highlights the hypocrisy of so-called conservatives who favor insulating most civil defendants from suit while inviting nearly anyone to sue for “aiding and abetting” performance of an abortion.

Hate Crimes and Free Speech

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why the view that hate crime legislation violates the freedom of speech is incorrect and has radical and undesirable logical implications. Professor Colb points out that speech in this context is used as a basis for inferring a person’s motive, and people generally agree that motive can be a relevant consideration in determining whether certain conduct is permissible.

What Andrew Cuomo Has Taught Us About #MeToo

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb reflects on what the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo means about the #MeToo movement. Professor Colb examines the structure of allegations of gendered misconduct, and she points out that the small number of men who victimize women tend to do it repeatedly unless and until someone puts a stop to it once and for all.

How To Lose An Argument (or Arrogance for Dummies)

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb explains why listening to people is a better way to persuade them to change their position on an issue than calling them out for inconsistency. Professor Colb navigates a hypothetical conversation to demonstrate how thoughtful attention and humility can be more convincing than arguing or attacking.

What If Edwards v. Vannoy Had Gone the Other Way?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Vannoy, in which it held that a prisoner may not invoke the denial of his Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury as a basis for challenging his criminal conviction when filing a federal habeas corpus petition. Professor Colb explains why, if cost/benefit analysis played a role in determining retroactivity, the Court perhaps should have decided that case the other way.

#BillCosby Is Still #Guilty

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Bill Cosby’s conviction for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand. Professor Colb makes clear that the court’s actions in that case do not exonerate Bill Cosby; rather, it remains true that a jury of his peers convicted him of sexual assault based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

United States v. Briggs: The Court Reaches a Wrong but Just Result

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this term holding that the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) contains no statute of limitations for rape. Professor Colb argues that the Court stretched the language of the statute to reach a “desirable” decision, demonstrating that judges at all levels can interpret a statute to reach the result they want to reach.

Should Vegans “Force” Their Children to Be Vegan?

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent interview in which actor Joaquin Phoenix, who is vegan, said that he would not “force” his nine-month-old son River to be vegan, though he hoped he would be. Professor Colb explores why the question and his answer have provoked strong responses among vegan activists and offers an alternative understanding of his statement that supports, rather than undermines, veganism.

The U.S. Supreme Court Takes a Step toward Defunding the Police

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caniglia v. Strom, holding that police may not enter a private home to perform a “community caretaking” function without having a search warrant. Professor Colb suggests that by recognizing limits on the authority of law enforcement officers to enter a home without a warrant in these circumstances, the Court may be implicitly adopting the message of “defunding the police” by reallocating a non-police function to better-suited responders, such as social workers or mental health experts.

Justice Thomas Calls Out Liberals for Distinguishing Incarceration from Pregnancy

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to an observation made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence in his concurring opinion in Jones v. Mississippi, noting an ostensible inconsistency in the language liberals use in discussing incarceration, as compared to pregnancy. Professor Colb acknowledges the face value of Justice Thomas’s point—that liberals refer to minors seeking an abortion as “women” and minors facing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) as “children”—but she points out that the difference in terminology reflects a consistent view that minors are not fully developed and should not be forced to do irreversible “adult” things like carry a pregnancy to term or serve a mandatory LWOP sentence.

Vegan Food, Cultured Meat, and How to Change Hearts and Minds

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent episode of the podcast “Making Sense,” in which host Sam Harris talked with guests Bruce Friedrich and Liz Spech of the Good Food Institute about how we might all go about saving the world from climate disaster. Professor Colb notes a key point of discussion, that production and consumption of animal-based foods is a major contributor to the climate crisis, and argues that we just have to make ethical eating virtually identical to or better than unethical eating if we want to bring the vast majority of humanity along.

I Believe Dylan Farrow

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb responds to the documentary mini-series called Allen v. Farrow, about Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and the allegations of sexual abuse that their daughter Dylan made against her father. Professor Colb explains why it seems plausible that the man who lied casually on the phone with his ex-girlfriend would be capable of doing whatever he wanted to do, whatever he thought (correctly) he could get away with.

How We Resist Positive Change

Cornell Law professor Sherry F. Colb describes some ways in which we resist positive change; specifically, she describes her initial hesitation to becoming an ethical vegan and the rationalizations we use to justify resisting positive change. Professor Colb argues that animals are different from inanimate objects, and we must recognize that when anyone suffers, anyone regardless of species, we have an evil that rightly commands our attention and action.

Who Counts as a Jew?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Israel holding that people who have undergone Conservative or Reform conversions in Israel qualify as Jews under the Israeli Law of Return. Professor Colb explains the significance of this decision and explores some of the downsides that remain in the Israeli approach to who counts as a Jew.

Does Father Know Best When It Comes to Abortion?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a “father knows best” bill that the Tennessee state legislature is currently considering, which would allow the father of a pregnancy to obtain an injunction against the mother’s having an abortion. Professor Colb notes that while requiring consent of the pregnancy’s father might make intuitive sense and most abortion decisions do include the father, she points out that “father knows best” (and father notification) laws disregard the interests of the embryo/fetus (by giving a father a say in whether to proceed with an abortion) and redistribute control of reproduction from women to men. Professor Colb argues that for these reasons, the Tennessee bill is even more objectionable than an outright ban on the procedure would have been.

No Good Men?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a film called “Promising Young Women,” which purports to be a feminist movie about date rape. While Professor Colb describes the movie as interesting, thought-provoking, and “definitely” worth seeing, she argues that it suggests a view of men and sexual assault that is erroneous and potentially even anti-feminist.

Should the Law Prohibit Anti-Fat Discrimination?

Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb explores the problem of fat discrimination and considers what a law of anti-fat discrimination might look like, and why it could be important. Professor Colb explores the similarities and differences between legally protected characteristics and fatness and expresses optimism that a change in law could persuade some individuals to recognize fat people for the colleagues, students, friends, partners, and neighbors that they are.