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Court rejects bid to halt building of Obama Presidential Center

3 minute read

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a community event on the Obama Presidential Centre at the South Shore Cultural Centre in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

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  • Order by 7th Circuit rejects emergency stay motion, contains no explanation
  • Construction work for $700 million center began on Monday

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A federal appeals court has denied an effort by environmental advocates to preemptively halt construction of the Obama Presidential Center in a Chicago South Side park.

Work on the center began on Monday, after a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency motion by Protect Our Parks (POP) and others to preliminarily stay a lower court ruling that rejected their attempt to stop, for now, the beginning of construction on the $700 million project in Chicago's Jackson Park. The court's brief order on Friday did not explain the panel's reasoning.

The plaintiffs' oppose the project over worries that downing hundreds of trees to make way for facilities, including a museum highlighting President Barack Obama's tenure, will harm the environment.

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Richard Epstein, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement that despite the court's ruling on their bid for a stay, "we remain optimistic in seeking relief from the appellate court."

Valerie Jarrett, the president of co-defendant the Obama Foundation, in a statement called the decision "a major victory that has been years in the making." The city of Chicago, another defendant, said through spokesperson Asha Binbek that the center "will revitalize Jackson Park." Other defendants include the National Park Service, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Department of Justice, whose lawyers represent the Service, declined to comment through spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle.

The Obama Foundation is represented by Sidley Austin, the Chicago-founded firm where former first lady Michelle Obama and former president Obama first met.

The plaintiffs sued in Chicago federal court in April, alleging that the center's construction will require cutting nearly 1,000 trees. The Obama Foundation puts that figure at about 350 trees, its spokesperson said.

POP and the other plaintiffs claim among other things violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, saying that federal agencies that studied the project's environmental impacts ignored less-damaging alternatives such as building the center outside the park.

Monday's construction work includes fencing the site, but no tree work, an Obama Foundation spokesperson said.

U.S. Circuit Judges behind Friday's order are Michael Kanne, Diane Wood and David Hamilton.

The case is Protect Our Parks Inc v. Buttigieg, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2449.

For Protect Our Parks et al: Richard Epstein; Michael Rachlis of Rachlis Duff Adler & Peel

For Pete Buttigieg, et al: Allen Brabender with the U.S. Department of Justice.

For Obama Foundation: David Hoffman of Sidley Austin

(This story has been updated with a comment from the city of Chicago.)

Read more:

Obama details plans for Chicago presidential center

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Sebastien Malo reports on environmental, climate and energy litigation. Reach him at sebastien.malo@thomsonreuters.com

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