Sunlight Project

One of the most influential historical figures I discovered early in my career as a pioneering short seller was created my Louis Brandeis who coined the phrase “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Mr. Brandeis came to it thinking “about the wickedness of people shielding wrongdoers and passing them off (or at least allowing them to pass themselves off) as honest men.”  This idea was a reoccurring theme through his lifetime and he combined these two ideas in saying, “if the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”

As an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) tried to reconcile the developing powers of modern government and society with the maintenance of individual liberties and opportunities for personal development.  Brandeis often joined his colleague Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in dissenting against the Court’s willingness to pose its judgments against those of individual and rejected incursions upon a citizen’s liberty states. Brandeis’s great interests was the building up of strong regional schools as a means of strengthening local areas against the threat of national centralization

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”

“The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”

“Those who won our independence … valued liberty as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.”

“Our government … teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

“Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.”

Louis D. Brandeis

Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.

  • Concurring, Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 375 (1927), at 375. In this case, in which the Court upheld a California anti-Communist statute, Brandeis, writing in a concurrence joined by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., concurred in the judgment but not in the reasoning. Whitneywas later overruled (with the later Court adopting Brandeis’s reasoning) in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

Dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).


Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Concurring, Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927).

True human progress is based less on the inventive mind than on the conscience of men such as Brandeis.

Albert Einstein, statement sent to the Boston journal The Jewish Advocate on 1931-10-19 on the occasion of Justice Brandeis’ seventy-fifth birthday, quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Albert Einstein: The Human Side (Princeton University Press, 1981), ISBN 0-691-02368-9, p. 85.

With deepest veneration and fellow feeling, I clasp your hand on the occasion of your eightieth birthday. I know of no other person who combines such profound intellectual gifts with such self-renunciation while finding the whole meaning of his life in quiet service to the community. We — all of us — thank you not only for what you have accomplished and brought about, but also because we feel happy that such a man should exist at all in this time of ours, which is so lacking in genuine personalities.

With reverent greetings….

Albert Einstein, letter to Justice Brandeis on 1936-11-10, ibid.