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?. 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

Antipathy to Lawyers and Litigation as a “Bullies Will Be Bullies” Attitude

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb looks at the possible roots of many Americans’ antipathy to lawyers and litigation. This hostility, Colb suggests, likely stems from a mindset, shared by Republicans and Democrats alike, that holds that the law should not intervene in private interactions. Thus, Americans may be surprised to learn that medical malpractice suits actually make us safer, or that bringing lawyers into a business dispute might at times be the right thing to do. The American way, many think, is instead to work things out on one’s own. But the flaw in that thinking, Colb suggests, is that the disputants in a disagreement may well have significantly unequal power—a situation that often calls for the law to intervene. Colb also contrasts criminal prosecutions with civil litigation, noting that Americans are typically much more comfortable with the former (with some exceptions, like “date rape” prosecutions) than they are with the latter. Finally, Colb contends that we should see anti-lawyer prejudice as, at times, a form of bullying, for sometimes only legal intervention can ensure a fair outcome.

The U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Blood Tests for Drunk Driving Suspects Require a Search Warrant: A Wise Decision?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb considers the merits of the Supreme Court’s approach to cases where drunk driving is suspected, as set forth in Missouri v. McNeely. There, the Court held that police must conduct a “totality of the circumstances” exigency analysis to determine whether seeking a warrant prior to performing a blood test would significantly undermine the efficacy of the search in an individual case. Colb considers whether the Court’s ruling makes sense, in light of what generally happens in DWI cases, and discusses an alternative approach that was proposed by the Chief Justice, as well as the approach described in Justice Thomas’s dissent and its witty hypothetical.

Rape by Deception, Rape by Impersonation, and a New California Bill

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses two types of rape that may not at first come to mind when one thinks of the crime, but that are very traumatic for the victim: rape by impersonation, and rape by deception. Colb illuminates the law with respect to these little-known crimes, and describes a California bill that is meant to ensure that rape by impersonation of the victim's partner can be prosecuted even if the victim is an unmarried woman, as was historically required. Colb also discusses other aspects of modern and historic rape law (such as the now-abolished marital rape exception), and raises the question whether lying about oneself to obtain sex should be deemed a crime, as an Israeli court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court Declares Warrantless Dog Sniffs of Private Front Porches Unconstitutional, Or Does it? A Closer Look at Florida v. Jardines

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the recent Supreme Court Fourth Amendment case concerning the constitutionality of the police’s conducting a warrantless dog sniff on the front porch of a private house in order to detect drugs. Colb analyzes both the majority and concurring opinions from the High Court, and explains why the drugs that were found by the police were suppressed, so that they could not be admitted into evidence in a criminal case against the defendant, Jardines. She also predicts the result that will follow when a similar, but not identical, Fourth Amendment case arises in the future, as it surely will.

Do People Under Arrest Have a Privacy Right in Their DNA? The U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in Maryland v. King Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part Two of a two-part series of columns on the Supreme Court case of Maryland v. King, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb continues her analysis of the case, which raises questions about the Fourth Amendment significance of DNA collection from arrestees, in light of the government interests and privacy entitlements that are at stake when a person is taken into custody. Part One of this series appeared on March 20, here on Justia’s Verdict.

Do People Under Arrest Have a Privacy Right in Their DNA? The U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in Maryland v. King Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part One in a two-part series of columns relating to the pending Supreme Court case Maryland v. King, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb considers the Fourth Amendment significance of DNA collection from arrestees, in light of the government interests and privacy entitlements that are at stake when a person is taken into custody. Part Two of this series will appear next Wednesday, March 27.

Is Veganism a Religion Under Anti-Discrimination Law? An Ohio Federal District Court Says Perhaps

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a discrimination case in which the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center fired a Customer Service Representative, Sakile S. Chenzira, for refusing to get a seasonal flu vaccine, in contravention of hospital policy. Chenzira refused the vaccine because she is a vegan and the vaccine is produced in chicken eggs. After her firing, Chenzira went to federal district court, arguing that her firing violated her right to be free of religious discrimination. The court denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss the case, and decided to hear the evidence. Colb describes in detail what it means to be a vegan, and explains why, for some vegans, the decision whether or not to be vaccinated is a difficult one. She also discusses when, under federal law, a belief system counts as a religion, noting that veganism ought to qualify under that definition. Colb also offers a prediction as to the likely outcome of Ms. Chenzira’s case.

Salinas v. Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court: Does the Fifth Amendment Protect the Right to Remain Silent?

In Part Two of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb continues her commentary on an upcoming Supreme Court case that raises the following question: Does the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of protection against compelled self-incrimination protect a suspect’s “right to remain silent” outside of the custodial setting? That is, does a suspect who has neither received any Miranda warnings nor is currently in custody have a right not to speak? In this series, Colb analyzes the question and suggests possible answers. (Part One of this two-part series appeared here on Justia’s Verdict on Wednesday, February 6.)

Salinas v. Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court: Does the Fifth Amendment Protect the Right to Remain Silent? Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part One of a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on an upcoming Supreme Court case that raises the following question: Does the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of protection against compelled self-incrimination protect a suspect’s “right to remain silent” outside of the custodial setting? That is, does a suspect who has neither received any Miranda warnings nor is currently in custody have a right not to speak? In this series, Colb analyzes the question and suggests possible answers. (Part Two of this two-part series will appear on Justia on Wednesday, February 13th.)

Evans v. Michigan: The Supreme Court Mulls Over Double Jeopardy, Again

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses two Supreme Court Double Jeopardy cases, Evans v. Michigan and Blueford v. Arkansas, that turn on what ought to happen when a judge makes a mistake about state law and consequently takes a case away from the jury. Since the mistake in Evans helped the defendant, Colb argues that the resolution of Evans will tell us a lot about how principled—or unprincipled—the Court’s application of its Double Jeopardy doctrine will be: Will the Court be consistent about the Double Jeopardy doctrine, even despite the possibility that its ruling might help criminal defendants? Colb also comments on the contrast between Evans and last year’s ruling in Blueford, where the judge also made a mistake, but not, in that case, a mistake that helped the defendant.

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Upholds Restrictions on Medical Abortion: Why Should Anyone Care?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses the ramifications of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s decision to uphold a series of restrictions on medical abortions (such as abortions effected by taking the drug RU-486) against various constitutional challenges by Planned Parenthood and others. Colb explains why making medical (as opposed to surgical) abortions more difficult can also have other ramifications, as well. For instance, she suggests that the restrictions at issue may be motivated by politics, and not by concern for women’s health. In particular, Colb points out that medical abortions do not require clinic visits where women seeking abortions must face down pro-life protesters; and that such abortions, with no health care provider involved, may defeat a pro-life strategy of vilifying abortion providers and painting women who seek abortions as victims of society’s decision not to fully support motherhood.

Do Rapists Have the Right to Parent Children Conceived in Rape? Part Two of a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part One of this two-part series of columns, which appeared on December 12, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb commented on the following question: Do men who father children through rape, and whose victims take their pregnancies to term, have parental rights vis-à-vis those children? If so, that would mean that the rapist father could seek visitation with, or even custody of, those children. Now, in Part Two of the series, Colb examines how and why many state laws seem to support even rapist fathers’ visitation rights, due to the burdens of proof they impose, with alleged rapists often needing to be convicted of rape beyond a reasonable doubt before their visitation rights are refused or terminated. Colb outlines a number of alternative legal approaches that she argues would be preferable to those that currently exist.

Do Rapists Have the Right to Parent Children Conceived in Rape? Part One of a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part One of this two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the following question: Do men who father children through rape, and whose victims take their pregnancies to term, have parental rights vis-à-vis those children? If so, that would mean that the rapist father could seek visitation with, or even custody of, those children. Colb describes both the argument in favor of allowing such men paternal rights, and the argument against doing so. In Part Two of this series, appearing on December 17, Colb examines how and why many state laws seem to support even rapist fathers’ visitation.

The European Court of Human Rights Upholds German Ban on PETA’s “Holocaust On Your Plate” Campaign: Lessons For Animal Activists and for Animal Product Consumers

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a controversy in Germany in which Germany’s branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA-D, compared animal exploitation and slaughter to the Nazi Holocaust, in a series of seven graphic posters. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) subsequently held that Germany’s censorship of the images was lawful. Colb, who is both an ethical vegan and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, critically analyzes (1) PETA-D’s decision to launch a campaign comparing animal slaughter to the Holocaust; (2) the ECHR’s decision that such a comparison diminishes Holocaust victims and survivors; and (3) the specific nature of the offense that is felt by those who condemn the analogy between animal exploitation and the Holocaust. In her analysis, Colb refers to sources ranging from Adorno, Singer, and Coetzee on animal suffering, to Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi,” a comparison to which most people don’t object, but perhaps logically should.

The U.S. Supreme Court Considers Dog Sniffs and the Fourth Amendment

In the second in a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb continues her commentary on the constitutional issues raised by dog sniffs, in light of two cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court will address the issue. As Colb explains, one case asks whether a dog sniff is itself a search, for Fourth Amendment purposes; and the other asks what is the evidentiary significance of a dog’s positively alerting after a drug sniff for narcotics. Here, Colb builds on her prior commentary on the cases, and also addresses related precedents. In addition, she discusses the complexities that may arise because dogs have minds of their own—and are able to sniff not only drugs but, for example, cancer and pregnancy. Moreover, dogs can also sense humans’ feelings, and will want to please humans with whom they have bonded. Colb considers these and other factors as they play into the Fourth Amendment analysis. She also predicts the likely outcomes of the cases before the Court, and describes the issues the Justices seemed to find salient at oral argument. She also predicts which Justices will be the “swing votes” in the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court Considers Dog Sniffs and the Fourth Amendment

In the first in a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the constitutional issues raises by dog sniffs, in light of two cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court will address the issue. As Colb explains, one case asks whether a dog sniff is itself a search for Fourth Amendment purposes, and the other asks what is the evidentiary significance of a dog’s positively alerting after a drug sniff for narcotics. Colb examines some of the main factors that may prove important in the cases, and suggests that the Court’s analysis will be significantly improved if it takes into account the differences between a living, breathing dog and a mere evidence-gathering machine.

Is Cellphone Tracking Okay If There’s No Trespass? A Sixth Circuit Panel Says Yes: Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part Two in a two-part series of columns on an interesting set of Fourth Amendment issues, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb continues to address the question whether law enforcement may constitutionally, without a warrant or probable cause, use global positioning technology to track a suspect’s whereabouts through his cellular phone. Specifically, here in Part Two, Colb considers the two possible ways in which the Supreme Court uses the phrase “reasonable expectations of privacy” in practice in Fourth Amendment cases. In the phrase, Colb notes, “reasonable” may mean “empirically realistic,” but it also may mean “morally justifiable.” Colb gives examples of Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit cases in which the phrase is used in these two different ways. In addition, she examines the exclusionary rule’s role here—noting that the rule, which forbids evidence from being admitted in court if it was obtained unconstitutionally, may in concrete cases seem to simply help out criminals, but at a more abstract theoretical level, protects us all from police misconduct. Colb also predicts that the Supreme Court will need to revisit these issues sooner, rather than later, to ensure that the law is clear.

Is Cellphone Tracking Okay If There’s No Trespass? A Sixth Circuit Panel Says Yes: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In Part One in a two-part series of columns on an interesting set of Fourth Amendment issues, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses the question whether law enforcement may constitutionally, without a warrant or probable cause, use global positioning technology to track a suspect’s whereabouts through his cellular phone. Previously, Colb explains, the U.S. Supreme Court held in United States v. Jones that police need a warrant and probable cause to attach a global positioning device to a vehicle and thereby track a suspect’s whereabouts. But now, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held that police may, without a warrant or probable cause, use global positioning technology to track a suspect’s whereabouts through his cellular phone. Colb examines the legal concepts that the Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit decisions invoke, including those of trespass, and of privacy, and comments on the court’s analysis.

The Downside of Juries in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the roles that introverts and extroverts, respectively, may play on juries. Drawing on the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, Colb notes that the American legal system assumes that extroversion is optimal, and both law schools and the legal world, more generally, reward it. But, Colb asks, what if we’re wrong in our assumptions about introverts and extroverts? Colb describes some of the detrimental effects that our collective elevation of extroversion may be having on the criminal justice system, and on society more generally, especially as extroverts tend to have overly optimistic views, when more balanced views would ideally be better (as is, perhaps, illustrated by the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis). Meanwhile, studies also show that in groups, people's views tend to follow those of others in a group—in a tendency toward conformity. Thus, Colb asks us to consider our juries: Are we really getting twelve individual views of the case in jury deliberations, or are the influences of conformity and extroversion undermining that ideal? If, indeed, they are, Colb offers an intriguing solution.

The Significance of Blind Spots in Moral Reasoning

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb takes strong issue with a set of hypothetical scenarios that NYU professor Jonathan Haidt presents in his book, published earlier in 2012, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. While focusing on these moral dilemmas insofar as they affect humans, Colb argues, Haidt exposes his own blind spot with respect to the morality of eating animals. Colb then offers her own, fresh set of hypothetical moral dilemmas, in order to illustrate her contention that Haidt has not isolated all the pertinent questions and issues that his own moral hypotheticals raise. Even while considering the less significant issue of humans doing harmless but disgusting things to animals who are already dead, Colb notes, Haidt fails to consider the much more important issue of humans killing animals.