Obama Wins Another Round Against Community Organizers



Photo:

60 Minutes/Zuma Press

Community organizers seeking to prevent former President

Barack Obama

from erecting a 235-foot tower in a Chicago park have been bulldozed again.

Alice Yin reports for the Chicago Tribune:

A federal review into the historic effects of former President Barack Obama’s proposed presidential center in Jackson Park officially concluded Thursday afternoon, further dashing hopes of opposition groups troubled by the impact of future construction on the storied South Side park.

Officials finalized a memorandum of agreement that caps off the presidential center’s three-year Section 106 federal review, the longest out of several triggered by the Obama Foundation’s decision to locate the future complex on historic property. Other reviews into mitigating environmental impacts as well as protecting public parkland remain ongoing, although the foundation announced earlier this month that groundbreaking for the center is slated to begin in 2021.

Since Mr. Obama’s official papers will reside elsewhere, the planned complex is not a presidential library but a sort of museum dedicated to celebrating America’s 44th president. In February this column noted one of the many ironies of the Obama plan:

Charles Birnbaum,

president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, argued that the city of Chicago was using “a Trump-era policy position” to speed federal approval of the project.

Many of the neighbors still don’t approve. “We have only just begun to fight this,” says Chicago environmentalist Ross Petersen. According to the Tribune’s Ms. Yin:

The nonprofit Jackson Park Watch, a dogged adversary of the presidential center’s proposed site, suggested a number of changes that were ignored, although the group was not required to sign off on it. Its president, Brenda Nelms, said earlier this week her lack of say had “set a very bad precedent” for undercutting community input.

“It was really a travesty … that ignored the realities of what the impact on the historic resources of the park, how they would be affected by the current plans for the Obama center,” Nelms said.

Besides a generally cooperative federal executive branch, Mr. Obama has also benefited from the decisions of the federal judiciary. Specifically, his project might not be on the brink of success were it not for the careful reasoning and sound textualism of a Trump appointee to the federal bench. Christian Belanger reported in August for the Hyde Park Herald:

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent the Protect Our Parks (POP) case against the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) back to district court in an opinion issued Friday afternoon, finding that some of the claims brought by the plaintiffs should have been dismissed…

POP argued that, under public trust doctrine, the public has a private property right in Jackson Park. The court found that this claim did not hold water, citing as precedent a case in which landowners next to a park didn’t have a property right when it came to the adjacent land.

“Although the plaintiffs wish it were otherwise,” wrote Judge Amy Coney Barrett, “the Illinois cases make clear that the public trust doctrine functions as a restraint on government action, not as an affirmative grant of property rights.”

But POP also brought two state claims — on these, the court found it did not have standing. This was unsurprising: the judges on the Seventh Circuit questioned the nonprofit’s standing during oral arguments in May, and ordered both POP and the city to submit supplementary briefs on the issue afterward.

Barrett gave three reasons in the opinion why the group did not have standing in federal court on half of its claims. First, she wrote, there are different standards in Illinois and federal courts for a claim that public trust doctrine has been violated — even though POP might have standing in state court, Barrett wrote, it’s “irrelevant” to the question of whether they have federal standing.

The group also can’t argue that the construction of the OPC will cause damage to Jackson Park, because standing requires showing that the construction causes injury to the plaintiff. “The plaintiffs can’t repackage an injury to the park as an injury to themselves,” Barrett wrote.

Finally, Barrett found that the plaintiffs did not have standing as municipal taxpayers.

Judge—now Justice—Barrett wasn’t necessarily endorsing Mr. Obama’s idea of clearing treasured green space to realize his vision of a self-tribute in stone and glass. She was simply applying the law as written, without regard to politics.

It seems that Mr. Obama owes Mr. Trump a debt of thanks for ensuring with his outstanding appointments that we can all continue to live in a land governed by the rule of law.

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Speaking of Gratitude

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Columbia University professor Stuart Gottlieb pushes back against the endless campaign to abolish the Electoral College:

… America’s founders had grave concerns about pure majority rule, which John Adams referred to as “democratical despotism,” and James Madison vividly described as a system where “the few will be unnecessarily sacrificed to the many.”

The solution was not just checks and balances in governing institutions, and a national Bill of Rights, but also indirect elections for president through the Electoral College. Indeed, it was this very system that compelled Democrats in 2020 to select the moderate

Joe Biden

over a progressive like Elizabeth Warren. Instead of trying to undo the wise and pragmatic work of the founders, Democrats and their supporters should be thanking them.

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Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”

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