Sunlight, the best disinfectant. Brandeis and the history of Transparency: A Case For Cameras In The Courtroom

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman. From Other People’s Money, Chapter V, by Louis Brandeis

“Brandeis made his famous statement that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” in a 1913 Harper’s Weekly article, entitled “What Publicity Can Do.” But it was an image that had been in his mind for decades. Twenty years earlier, in a letter to his fiance, Brandeis had expressed an interest in writing a “a sort of companion piece” to his influential article on “The Right to Privacy,” but this time he would focus on “The Duty of Publicity.” He had been thinking, he wrote, “about the wickedness of people shielding wrongdoers & passing them off (or at least allowing them to pass themselves off) as honest men.” He then proposed a remedy: If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.” Sunlight Foundation Intern, Andrew Berger. The Sunlight Foundation is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for open government. https://sunlightfoundation.com/2009/05/26/brandeis-and-the-history-of-transparency/

We certainly could use some sunlight, transparency and disinfectant in our nation’s court system! So much of our court corruption could be addressed if there were uniform laws requiring cameras in the courtrooms, allowing litigants to use videotaped transcripts. This would eliminate the extortion of litigants by forcing them to spend tens of thousands of dollars on stenographers. Allowing litigants the use of independent video would eliminate the common practice of corrupt courts altering transcripts. We need cameras! We need sunlight and disinfectant in our courts!

Street view of county courthouse in Rolling Meadows used by many Northwest suburban residents.

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