Sherry F. Colb, the C.S. Wong Professor of Law, a pioneering scholar and prolific writer on constitutional criminal procedure, animal rights and sexual equality, died Aug. 25 at her home in Ithaca. She was 56.
Colb – a beloved teacher, mentor and colleague, had an outsized influence on Cornell Law School and the community since arriving in 2008 with her husband, Michael Dorf, the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law.
“She trained a generation of lawyers to think ethically and critically about important issues,” said Jens Ohlin, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “She consistently spoke out against injustice wherever it might be found, whether against human beings or nonhuman animals. Her insights spanned not just academic articles and books but also prominent essays for online magazines that elevated the national discourse. Hers was a powerful voice that will not be silenced by her passing.”
Colb was especially well-known for her scholarship on animal rights and sexual equality. In 2016, she co-authored a pathbreaking book about the connection between animal rights and fetal rights, “Beating Hearts: Abortion and Animal Rights.”
“The book is genius both in its conception and in its execution” and “represents rational discourse at its finest,” said Mylan Engel Jr., professor of philosophy at Northern Illinois University, at a book celebration held at the Law School in 2016.
Her book “Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger? And Other Questions People Ask Vegans,” published in 2013, and “When Sex Counts: Making Babies and Making Law,” a book about the modern challenges of sex equality, published in 2007. She wrote extensively about these topics in her biweekly column on Justia’s Verdict as well as in regular posts on the blog Dorf on Law.
A favorite among students, Colb was chosen by the graduating Class of 2015 to deliver the keynote speech at Convocation. In her talk, she addressed the sometimes-flawed conclusions that students make about themselves. Students who feel too nervous to raise their hands in class, she said, may interpret their own fear and reticence as evidence that they have nothing to contribute or are not good enough.
“I’m here to tell you to disregard that nonsense,” she said. Noting that graduates may continue to encounter such fears in the high-stress world of lawyering, she added, “We are all here to tell you . . . that you are qualified to be here, you are qualified to do your jobs . . . So we welcome you into a profession that you are eminently qualified to be confident that you have the skills to perform.”
Colb came to Cornell Law School from the Rutgers University School of Law. She was also a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and Columbia Law School. She earned an A.B. from Columbia College (valedictorian) and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She clerked for Judge Wilfred Feinberg of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the United States Supreme Court.
Colb is survived by her husband Michael and children Meena and Amelia. A memorial service will be planned for this fall for Cornell colleagues and Ithaca friends.