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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman January 6, 2020

No, the Obamas didn’t surrender their law licenses to avoid discipline

A years-old hoax that claims Barack and Michelle Obama surrendered their law licenses to avoid disciplinary action has resurfaced on social media.

A viral Facebook post features a photograph of the Obamas along with text that reads: 

"Barack Obama surrendered his law license in 2008 to escape charges of lying on his bar application. Michelle Obama voluntarily surrendered her law license in 1993 after a Federal Judge gave her a choice between surrendering her license or standing trial for insurance fraud."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The Obamas no longer hold active licenses to practice law, but they were not forced to surrender their licenses over any disciplinary proceedings.

On the website for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, Barack Obama is listed as retired and was last registered in 2008. Michelle Obama is listed as voluntarily inactive and was last registered in 1993.

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The website shows neither of the Obamas has any public record of discipline or pending proceedings. Steve Splitt, a spokesman for the commission, confirmed to PolitiFact that there is no record "of any sort of disciplinary proceedings" involving the Obamas. 

It’s possible that the rumor spread because of the way Michelle Obama had to change her registration status. Prior to 1999, active lawyers were required to petition the court if they wanted to change their status, pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court rule 770. The online registration record previously listed Michelle Obama as being "on court ordered inactive status."

"It used to be that if an attorney wanted to move from active to inactive they would need to file a motion with the court," Splitt said. "Now, if they’re thinking about moving to inactive or retired status, they will often do it at the beginning of the year during registration to pay a reduced fee, but it can also be done during the year."

Splitt told us Michelle Obama filed a motion to transfer to inactive status in 1994. Barack Obama elected to have his license placed on inactive status after he announced his candidacy for president in 2007 and changed it to retired after becoming president in early 2009. 

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Bar Association continues to list the Obamas as honorary members of the organization. 

There is no evidence that supports the claim that the Obamas were subjects of any disciplinary proceedings and were forced to give up their law licenses. Both changed their registration status voluntarily and remain in good standing with the Illinois Bar Association. We rate this post Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Facebook post, Dec. 13, 2019 

ARDC, lawyer search, Jan. 2, 2020 

ARDC, status changes, Accessed Jan. 2, 2020

Wayback Machine, CHANGING FROM RULE 770 INACTIVE STATUS, Accessed Jan. 2, 2020, The Obamas’ Law Licenses, June 14, 2012

Snopes, Did Barack and Michelle Obama Lose Their Law Licenses?, April 8, 2010

Illinois State Bar Association, History, Accessed Jan. 2, 2020

Phone interview, Steve Splitt spokesperson at the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Jan. 2, 2020

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No, the Obamas didn’t surrender their law licenses to avoid discipline

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