OPC in winter

A rendering of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park. 

Protect Our Parks has filed a petition to the United States Supreme Court in its case against the city and the Chicago Park District over the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park. 

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against POP last summer, dismissing two of the group’s claims and finding that they did not have standing in federal court on another two. A request for a rehearing by the full appeals court panel was denied in October.

In their petition, POP’s legal team, which includes the University of Chicago Law School professor Richard Epstein, claim that the appeals court made two mistakes in its decision. 

First, POP argued that the appeals court was inconsistent when it dismissed the group’s state law claims for standing, but upheld the two claims under federal law before ruling against the group. 

“In so doing, the Seventh Circuit’s decision departs from the basic standing rules under Article III,” states the petition. 

The petition also argues that the appeals court mischaracterized property rights under the public trust doctrine, which governs the use of natural resources. In its decision, the court wrote that “the public trust doctrine functions as a restraint on government action, not as an affirmative grant of property rights.” 

In its petition, POP argues that other case precedent shows this view is mistaken, and that the public, including POP, counts as a beneficiary under public trust doctrine, and therefore has a property right in Jackson Park. 

The judge who authored the appeals court opinion, Amy Coney Barrett, has since been appointed to the Supreme Court. That could make the already-lengthy odds that the petition is granted — 8,000 to 9,000 petitions are filed each year, and the court agrees to hear oral arguments in about 80 of them — even longer. 

Meanwhile, other developments around the OPC continue apace. At a community meeting on March 2, the city announced that it would soon begin preparatory work in Jackson Park ahead of the construction of the center itself. And earlier this week, the Obama Foundation unveiled additional elements of the building design, which will include excerpts from Obama’s 2015 speech in Selma, Alabama.


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

(2) comments

Keith H

POP needs to stop this madness. They’ve lost. Repeatedly. They should now move on and focus on efforts that are actually helpful rather than spiteful.

Ross Petersen

The only thing that's madness is this suggestion to locate the Obama Center inside of this Park. This is a mid-rise, 23 story tall building that takes up a (formerly) open Park.

Important legal issues are at stake, and you shouldn't be surprised the case has wound up in court. Chicago's history features these long running struggles to maintain an open, clear and free Lakefront, going back to Montgomery Ward. I salute those who bravely fight, to this day, to maintain our open Lakefront. The OPC cuts down the Park, it cuts down the trees. This center belongs in the City, not in the Park.

It's called environmentalism. To chop down the Park is Madness.

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