Kelo versus the city of New London is a controversial Supreme Court eminent domain case. It was decided back in 2005. But for a couple of hours in downtown Philadelphia, a handful of Chinese attorneys brought the case back to life.
Kelo versus the city of New London is a controversial Supreme Court eminent domain case. It was decided back in 2005. But for a couple of hours in downtown Philadelphia, a handful of Chinese attorneys brought the case back to life. The mock trial is the culmination of their 15-month masters program at Temple University’s Beasley School of law.
On the 9th floor of the federal courthouse, three Chinese attorneys argue that the government can take someone’s home for private economic development. But two other Chinese lawyers say the fifth amendment should protect the homeowner.
Wang Min is a paralegal with a legal consulting company in Beijing. But today she’s making a passionate plea, standing up for the rights of individuals over government intervention.
Min: If you take the opponent’s argument it is such a good opportunity for President Obama to take everybody’s home and make it into a business or something like that. But what about the individual’s home and life, it would be a disaster to everybody’s home and own life.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage is presiding over the trial. After one of the attorneys Cao Huan tries to justify the city’s eminent domain seizure, Judge Savage asks him where in the Constitution does it say the government can take a person’s home?
Huan: Uhhh, I don’t think the Constitution says that.
Savage continues to press him on where to draw the line when it comes to “public benefit.” Huan gets help from his co-counsel Xiong Lifang.
Lifang: What is the public use? Like in this case, the legitimate public purpose is to rejuvenate the economy of that city.
For opposing counsel Wang Min, it was the first time she argued a case in court.
Min: They will challenge you and you have to confront the challenge, not just say, this is our view. But you have to kick back the ball and confront the challenge.
She says that’s different from China, where the system is more question and answer and less adversarial.
The subject of the case should hit home for these students, where the Chinese government has seized property of hundreds of thousands of people for both the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
Wang says the trial also gave her a chance to act out ideals that she says she’s had all her life. It started with a course in Constitutional law.
Wang: But when I study little by little, I think the bill of rights is most beautiful and highlight in the American legal system and is very very excellent for maybe all the world people.
Wang says it will take time before the ideas embodied in the U.S. Constitution make their way into the Chinese legal system but she says things are changing.
Mike Jones is a partner at Reed Smith, the lawfirm that provides a fellowship to the students and organized the mock trial.
Jones: There’s been a concerted effort I think to make sure that for continued economic growth, investment and development that their legal system is compatible with western, EU legal systems. So I think we’ve seen a great deal of rapid growth in their legal system and I think that will continue.
And Wang, who alone among her colleagues sided with Kelo, could represent that change.
Wang: I always think the people should protect themselves against the government.
In this mock trial, there was no verdict. But in the real case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 allowing the city of New London to take the homes by eminent domain.