Protect Our Parks president Herb Caplan in 2019

The Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit will hear oral arguments in Protect Our Parks (POP) vs. Chicago Park District, the suit attempting to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park, on May 21 at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Each side will get 20 minutes to argue its case.

Last June, District Court Judge John Robert Blakey dismissed POP’s 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.

POP, a small nonprofit headed by Lakeview resident Herb Caplan, then received an influx of cash from the Logan Foundation and hired new attorneys, including libertarian legal scholar Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School. The case was docketed last November.

In its brief filed on Jan. 21, POP argues that the establishment of the OPC “involves the indisputable transfer of public trust property to a private party, executed through an extreme (and unconstitutional) delegation of government power to a private citizen.” While the Obama Foundation plans to build and operate the OPC campus for 99 years, the city will own the site, and the foundation’s operations there are subject to a use agreement.

The federal reviews of the OPC and associated projects found that adverse effects would befall the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District and Midway Plaisance should the OPC and associated projects be established there. Those adverse effects would have to be mitigated before the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Authority and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can sign off on the plans.

POP argues that the District Court was wrong when it declined to review its earlier decision in light of those effect findings from last November and that Blakey’s dismissal last summer should be vacated.

“Given the new information that could not have been obtained earlier, should the court tolerate the certain injustice that comes from ignoring relevant evidence or should it reopen the case so that a full and fair decision of the case on the merits is possible?” Epstein wrote. “(The) District Court wholly abused its discretion when it continued to insist that all these changes should be described as ‘benefits’ and ‘enhancements’ without so much as even looking at the federal agencies’ current findings.”

The city and Park District replied on Feb. 20, arguing that the assessment of effects, then in its draft form, “is immaterial to the application of Illinois law and, in any event, cumulative of evidence publicly available before judgment.” POP, they said, failed to demonstrate that Blakey's judgment “is no longer equitable or that any other extraordinary circumstances justify relief.”

Eleven Chicago museums, a number of presidential foundations and nine professors of property law, including Lee Anne Fennell at the U. of C., have filed amicus briefs supporting the city and Park District.

Caplan said that the amici who filed briefs supporting POP when the lawsuit was before the District Court have not done so for the appeal. Epstein responded to the opposing briefs in his reply to the defendants.

The 7th Circuit is currently operating under an emergency operations plan because of the coronavirus pandemic. All oral arguments from March 30 through April 30 will be argued telephonically, with courtrooms closed to the public. Arguments will be recorded and posted on the court's website.

(3) comments

Tom Tresser

If you want to stop the Obama Center Jackson Park Land Grab, then go to and sign up for their newsletter and make a contribution. Taking on the most powerful people in the USA is almost impossible work. Last time I looked the Obama Foundation had three billionaires on the board. The Obamas recently bought a multi-million dollar home in MA. They have a TON of money to purchase a plot of land adequate for their plans ANY PLACE in this city. Oh, and don't forget the leadership at the University of Chicago - which bought dozens of properties in advance of that they thought would be the 2016 Summer Olympics and which properties will all (have already) skyrocketed in value - they are behind the push to put the Obama Center in Jackson Park. Shame on them.

(Edited by staff.)

Ross Petersen

I think your reporter got his facts confused. Protect Our Parks is a city - wide advocacy group, and we on JPAC, the Jackson Park Advisory Council - we worked with them on the Olympic proposal, some years ago.

Protect Our Parks did get a foundation grant - from the Logan foundation, to help pay for this effort. But Mr. Epstein is working pro-bono, and none of the foundation's money is going to him, this according to the downtown press.

I think it is an absolute shame that our main, downtown advocacy group, Friends of the Parks, has done nothing to save our park. They should be gathering these different groups, like Nichol's Park Advisory Council, like Jackson Park Watch, like the bird conservation network, the CBA coalition, into one voice, and advocating for park preservation.

Is it because it is out South that they are ignoring this?

Friends of the Parks needs to get off their backside, do some advocacy work here.

What kind of advocacy group can't write a brief in support of saving a park?

John Weis Loftus

I would hope that Mr. Obama himself would experience an epiphany.. and find a suitable site truly situated in the South Side, where the OPC can truly transform a neighborhood in need. I trust that Mr. Obama will “show us great... and relocate.”

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