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Construction of Obama Presidential Center to continue despite Supreme Court lawsuit

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

On the same day that building crews broke ground on the construction of Chicago's Obama Presidential Center, a group of disgruntled citizens filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to block the progress of the project. Although the bid to halt the work on the 19.3 acre plan was recently rejected by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the groups are continuing their fight against the site honoring America's first Black president.

Rendering courtesy of the The Obama Foundation

“On Monday, August 16 the Obama Foundation officially began construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park,” said a spokesperson for the $830 million initiative, “and we are excited to bring this historic project to the city of Chicago.”

Despite the enthusiasm of some in the Windy City, Chicagoans and citizens from surrounding areas have launched a series of coordinated legal attacks against the project and its location within Jackson Park, a 551 acre site on the city's south side designed by famed landscape architect, William Law Olmstead—who also designed New York's iconic Central Park.

The group pushing against the project is, in fact, a group of groups. The primary petitioner is Protect Our Parks. According to their website, the non-profit organization is committed to “keeping public park land open to the public.” They are joined in the lawsuit by The Nichols Park Advisory Council as well as five other private citizens.

Overhead view of planned construction site

The plaintiffs allege that the local, state, and federal government have deliberately and illegally segmented the project in order to avoid a thorough assessment of the plan's environmental impact. According to court documents, the suit claims that construction of the Obama Presidential Center will, "adversely affect the human environment, the historic landscape, wildlife, and migratory birds," of Jackson Park.

Furthermore, the suit claims that construction at the planned site, "will necessarily involve the destruction of the existing Frederick Law Olmsted (“Olmsted”) transportation roadways that are central to the structure of Jackson Park and the surrounding area."

This is not the first time the issue of the Obama Presidential Center has come before a federal court. In 2018, Protect Our Parks, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District arguing that the planned Obama Presidential Center would benefit private interests at the expense of public interest. That effort was also rejected by a federal judge and later struck down by Judge Amy Coney Barrett in her then-role as a federal appeals court judge.

The most recent lawsuit by the plaintiffs came again before judge Amy Coney Barrett, but this time, she took up the case in her role as a Supreme Court Justice. Barrett handles emergency matters for the state of Illinois. Within a week of the filing, Barret responded to the suit, dismissing the request for injunction without providing any explanation for her decision.

Despite their legal losses, the opponents of the Obama Presidential Center are unbowed in their quest to block, or at least hinder, the efforts to build at the Jackson Park site. Michael Rachlis, an attorney for Protect Our Parks and the other parties to the suit called the Supreme Court decision, "disappointing, but not surprising," and explained that his clients believe that, "preserving the status quo is fundamental to preventing irreparable harm in Jackson Park."

Although groundbreaking and construction at the site is already underway, an official dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony is expected to take place during the fall.


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