Lawsuit seeking to block the Obama Presidential Center loses federal appeal

A three-judge appellate panel affirmed the U.S. District Court ruling, but said they couldn’t rule on some matters it considered to be under state, not federal, jurisdiction.

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Obama Presidential Center rendering. | Obama Foundation

Obama Presidential Center rendering.

Obama Foundation

A federal appeals court on Friday dealt another blow to efforts to stop the Obama Presidential Center from being built in Jackson Park.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed much of a U.S. District Court ruling which had tossed the lawsuit, filed by Protect Our Parks against the Chicago Park District and the city.

The appeals court’s decision means the Obama Foundation is steps closer to breaking ground for the Obama Presidential Center, planned for 19.3 acres in the park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Protect Our Parks and Maria Valencia filed the federal lawsuit in May 2018. Among its objections was that the city and park district violated the park district code by transferring public park land to the foundation for private use.

The lawsuit also claimed the city and park district violated the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution by transferring public property for private use and doing so without due process.

In June 2019, U.S. District Judge John Blakey granted summary judgment in favor of the city, ruling that construction of the center should move forward without a delay. Lawyers for Protect Our Parks appealed.

The three-judge appellate panel affirmed the lower court’s ruling on the constitutional issues — but it also said it had no jurisdiction to rule on potential violations of state law or park district codes. 

That leaves an opening for Protect our Parks to continue to pursue those issues in state court, though it is unclear if they intend to do so. Attorneys for Protect our Parks didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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