Seventh Circuit Green Lights Construction of the Obama Presidential Center

August 26, 2020

Partner Craig Martin filed an amicus brief on behalf of 11 museums in support of the creation of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park.

On August 21, 2020, the Seventh Circuit ruled against environmental activist group Protect Our Parks and several individual Chicago residents, holding they did not have standing to allege violations of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment or the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment in their quest to halt construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

The complaint in Protect Our Parks v. Chicago Park District accused the City and the Chicago Park District of violating their obligations as trustees of public parkland by allowing the private Obama Foundation to build the Center on public parkland. Plaintiffs asserted defendants violated Illinois’s public trust doctrine by transferring control of public parkland to the Obama Foundation for a purely private purpose and acted beyond their legal authority by entering the use agreement with the Foundation. They also argued defendants violated the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by altering the use of Jackson Park and granting control to the Foundation thereby depriving them of property. In June 2019, District Court Judge John Robert Blakey dismissed the case against the City and Park District, finding that building the 19.3-acre campus in Jackson Park would provide ample public utility and that the legislative process for establishing it there had been sound.

Eleven Chicago museums, a number of presidential foundations and nine professors of property law filed amicus briefs supporting the City and Park District. Partner Craig Martin filed a brief on behalf of the eleven museums that currently operate on Chicago Park District property—Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, The Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, The Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and John G. Shedd Aquarium. The museums voiced support for the creation of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and wrote separately to highlight Chicago’s long history of establishing museums in its parks and to alert the Court to potential consequences that may arise should it side with the plaintiffs.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the federal claims but overturned the district court’s ruling on the state law claims, holding that neither it nor the lower court had jurisdiction to rule on the state claims, leaving the door open for Protect Our Parks Inc. and other appellants to renew their fight in state court.