Court Battles

Lawsuit against construction of Obama Presidential Center tossed by judge

A lawsuit that sought to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has been tossed by a federal judge.

Chicago nonprofit Protect Our Parks and other individuals filed a second lawsuit in 2021 against the city of Chicago, Chicago Park District, the Obama Foundation and other individuals, contending that there were faults in federal reviews of the impact the center would have on the environment.

They also also claimed that federal regulators refused to consider other locations for the facility, including places that they said would have been “much less harmful to protected resources.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Blakey, however, dismissed the lawsuit on Tuesday, writing in a ruling that the city of Chicago did not abdicate control or ownership of the [Obama Presidential Center] site to the Obama Foundation,” adding that the Museums Act, which guides museums, “manifests clear legislative intent for the [Obama Presidential Center].”

Blakey also argued that presidential centers, including the Obama facility, “confer a public benefit because they ‘serve valuable public purposes, including, but not limited to, furthering human knowledge and understanding, educating and inspiring the public, and expanding recreational and cultural resources and opportunities.’”

Richard A. Epstein, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, told The Hill in a statement on Thursday that his clients will continue to defend their position. The plaintiffs are also looking into appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

“Bottom line: there remain ongoing challenges, and we will continue to defend our position vigorously by fully presenting our evidence and arguments in court,” he added.

The attorney said the court’s dismissal “has no impact or bearing on the challenges to the various federal reviews which remain pending in the District Court or the appeal of the preliminary injunction ruling that remains pending in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.”

Protect Our Parks Inc., along with several other individuals, filed an initial lawsuit against the city in an effort to stop the establishment of the Chicago Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

The plaintiffs argued that the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago did not have the authority to move government-owned parkland to the Obama Foundation, which is a nongovernmental organization. The lawsuit, however, was ultimately dismissed the next year, a ruling that a federal appeals court upheld in 2020.

Former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama broke ground on the presidential center in November.

The Obama Foundation on Wednesday said the ruling allows the group to continue its work in the South Side of Chicago, adding it is on track to open in 2025. 

“We know many in the city and community are eager for us to continue our work to bring jobs and investment to the South Side and the ruling yesterday allows us to do just that,” an Obama Foundation spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.

“We have appreciated the voices of the many leaders who weighed in on this issue with the court to move the Center forward as the city focuses on its recovery efforts and steps to build a more inclusive economy,” the spokesperson added.

Obama Presidential Center is set to open its doors in 2025, according to the spokesperson.

Epstein said the plaintiffs were “not surprised” by the decision, but are “deeply disappointed with it.”

“The District Court’s opinion ignores the many case law authorities which hold that total deference to the City and the Foundation is not consistent with the constitutional underpinnings of the public trust doctrine or other constitutional principles outlined in the complaint. In our legal system, the rule of law and due process are foundational, and this decision undermines those principles,” Epstein wrote.

“Moreover, we thoroughly disagree with the outcome and reasoning of this opinion,” he added.

Updated March 31 at 4:19 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Michelle Obama Obama

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