On behalf of the Barack Obama Foundation, Sidley successfully defeated two preliminary injunction motions at both the U.S. district court and court of appeals seeking to block the imminent construction of the Obama Presidential Center. As a result of these victories, construction of the Presidential Center began on August 16 in Jackson Park on the South Side in Chicago – five years after the Barack Obama Foundation announced that it planned to build the Obama Presidential Center on this site. Approvals and required reviews from the Chicago City Council and various federal agencies were completed in October 2018 and February 2021, respectively, clearing the way for the project.
In April, plaintiffs brought this lawsuit in federal court in Chicago against the federal agencies, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, and the Obama Foundation claiming violations of federal and state law. The case, Protect Our Parks, et al. v. Buttigieg, et al., is before U.S. District Judge Blakey of the Northern District of Illinois. On June 15, Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction in an attempt to block construction of the project. At a July 20 hearing on the motion, Sidley partner David H. Hoffman articulated the importance of this project to Chicago and why the public interest so strongly favored denial of an injunction:
“[W]hile Chicago has had the opportunity to build wonderful museums of history and art and science, this opportunity has never arisen before to have a museum and center for a president from Chicago and we will always be the first and only place to have a museum to discuss and honor the first black U.S. president. We, Chicago, the South Side will have that honor and no one else will ever have that. This improves us as a city, it enhances our experience as citizens, and we have been waiting for years for this. The eyes of Chicago are upon us.”
In a one-paragraph order on August 5, Judge Blakey denied the preliminary injunction motion, and issued a 49-page opinion on August 12 explaining his ruling. Meanwhile, on August 6, the plaintiffs filed an appeal of that denial in the 7th Circuit, and subsequently filed emergency motions in both the district court and the 7th Circuit seeking an injunction to stop construction while the appeal was pending. On August 10, Sidley filed a brief in the district court on behalf of the Obama Foundation in opposition to plaintiffs’ emergency motion, and on August 12, Judge Blakey denied plaintiffs’ motion. On Friday, August 13, Sidley also filed a brief in the 7th Circuit in opposition to plaintiffs’ emergency motion. Later that day, the 7th Circuit denied the motion, with an opinion to follow.
The appeal of the district court’s initial denial of the preliminary injunction motion will still be heard by the 7th Circuit, and the court is expected to set a briefing schedule shortly. And the proceedings on plaintiffs’ underlying claims will continue to final judgment in the district court. But the rulings from both courts ensured that construction on the Obama Presidential Center could start as scheduled on August 16.
David H. Hoffman (Chicago) presented oral argument on behalf of the Obama Foundation at the hearing and led the Sidley team that includes Tacy F. Flint, John G. Levi, Rachel L. Hampton, Kelsey E. Annu-Essuman, Paul E. Bateman, Jr., and Michaela Kabat from Sidley’s Chicago office, and Peter R. Steenland and Jillian Sheridan Stonecipher from Sidley’s Washington, D.C. office.