Thursday, August 25, 2022

Sherry Colb

by Michael C. Dorf

I'm writing with unspeakably sad news. Sherry Colb--my co-blogger, co-author, colleague, best friend, and wife for over 31 years--died this morning. A funeral service will be held this Sunday August 28 at noon at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel on Amsterdam Avenue at 91st Street in Manhattan (five blocks from where Sherry grew up), followed by burial at Cedar Park Chapel and Cemetery in Paramus, NJ. There will be an additional memorial service at Cornell in Ithaca some time in the coming months.

I expect that this news comes as a great shock to most readers, given Sherry's relative youth, and how, until very recently, she was extremely prolific--not just her Verdict columns and blog posts but also four law review articles in the last year. Accordingly, I will add a bit of background.

Sherry had breast cancer surgery in 2006 and a second time for a different cancer in early 2019. That second cancer returned in metastatic form in early 2021. Sherry had been receiving treatments of various sorts since then. Although she was in considerable pain, she managed to teach all of last academic year and to maintain an active life. As recently as the end of July we were taking our dogs on daily 3-mile walks. Even so, since roughly February of this year, it had been clear that the cancer meds she was on had lost their efficacy, and three new ultimately ineffective drug regimes later, plus too many diagnostic procedures and interventions to list, she decided to transition to home hospice. By the time she passed away, her death, though heartbreaking to me and everyone else who loved her, was a mercy to Sherry.

Sherry was the love of my life and the mother of my two magnificent daughters, Meena and Amelia Colbdorf, but she was also an academic superstar. She was valedictorian of her high school class and then valedictorian of her class at Columbia College. She excelled at Harvard Law School, earning a clerkship with Second Circuit Judge Wilfred Feinberg and then Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. She won teaching awards and was chosen by the students to speak at graduation ceremonies at Rutgers and at Cornell. She was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia law schools. She wrote three books and countless articles, columns, and blog posts. She was frequently quoted in The New York Times and other media. As regular readers of this blog and Sherry's Verdict columns surely know, in her last months, she channeled her white-hot anger at Justice Samuel Alito and the reactionary Supreme Court into numerous essays that far-flung readers wrote to tell her gave fiercely intelligent voice to their own feelings.

Sherry had numerous interests as a scholar and teacher. At one time or another she taught courses in evidence, criminal law, criminal procedure, mental health law, feminist jurisprudence, and animal rights. She was a champion of the underdog but also sensitive to the needs of society as a whole. She began her criminal procedure class most years by asking students to identify the harms that private actors inflict on one another when crime goes unchecked and also to identify the harms that arise out of the abuse of police power—quickly bringing them to the realization that anarchy and authoritarianism are mirroring evils. Long before the most recent wave of attention to overzealous and racist policing, Sherry proposed that traffic stops for nonviolent offenses should be drastically curtailed.

I know that many of you will want to offer condolences, which my family and I will much appreciate. I apologize in advance that I will not likely acknowledge them in a timely way, if at all. Should you wish to honor Sherry in some way, please consider making a donation to an organization that carries out one or more of the missions that Sherry most valued. For instance:

 

1) A donation to one of the charities Sherry supported that works to benefit people in need without harming nonhuman animals. Organizations Sherry and I have supported in this category include:


A Well-Fed World

Coalition for Healthy School Food 

Feed My Starving Children

 

2) OneSky – training caregivers throughout Asia to provide services to needy children, especially orphans

 

3) HIAS – assisting refugees in the tradition of Sherry’s father Ben Zion Colb, who, at great personal risk, organized the rescue of over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust

 

4) Planned Parenthood – whose work is more important now than ever 


I will likely take a break from blogging for at least a short time, although I expect that before long my own interests will serve as a useful distraction and balm for my grief, so I cannot yet say how long. In the meantime, Professors Buchanan and Segall will provide most of the original content.

For now, I offer some pictures of Sherry from private and family life. These capture a side of her that I suspect most readers do not know.