What Happened to Michelle and Barack Obama's Law Licenses?

Obama Delivers Remarks At Congressional Picnic
Michelle and Barack Obama.

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The viral email quoted below claims that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama surrendered their Illinois law licenses to avoid criminal prosecution. This viral message has been circulating since June 2010 and is mostly considered a false statement.

The following email text was contributed in June 2012 and focuses on a story about how the Obamas voluntarily relinquished their law licenses in the name of lies on the bar application and rumors of insurance fraud. Read the forwarded email and the analysis that follows to understand the status of their law licenses and the existing evidence surrounding their status in the law profession.

The Viral Email Message

Subject: Lawyers?
"This was forwarded by an acquaintance. Very telling.
I knew they had both lost their law license, but I didn't know why until I read this.
This is 100% legit. I check it out at https://www.iardc.org, which stands for "Illinois Attorney Registration And Disciplinary Committee." It's the official arm of lawyer discipline in Illinois and they are very strict and mean as hell. Talk about irony. Even I, at the advanced age of almost 65, maintain, at the cost of approximately $600 per year, a law license that I worked so hard and long to earn.
Big surprise.
Former Constitutional Law Lecturer and U.S. President Makes Up Constitutional Quotes During State Of The Union (SOTU) Address.
Consider this:
1. President Barack Obama, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, is no longer a "lawyer." He surrendered his license back in 2008 in order to escape charges that he lied on his bar application. A "voluntary surrender" is not something where you decide "Gee, a license is not really something I need anymore, is it?" and forget to renew your license. No, a "voluntary surrender" is something you do when you've been accused of something, and you "voluntarily surrender" your license before the state suspends you.
2. Michelle Obama "voluntarily surrendered" her law license in 1993 after a federal judge gave her the choice between surrendering her license or standing trial for insurance fraud.
3. So, we have the first black President and First Lady who don't actually have licenses to practice law. Facts.
Source: http://jdlong.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/pres-barack-obama-editor-of-the-Harvard-law-review-has-no-law-license/ 
4. A senior lecturer is one thing, and a fully ranked law professor is another. Barack Obama was not a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago.
5. The University of Chicago released a statement in March 2008 saying that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) "served as a professor" in the law school but that is a title Obama, who taught courses there part time, never held.
6. "He did not hold the title of Professor of Law," said Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, Assistant Dean for Communications and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago School of Law.
Source: http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2008/03/sweet_obama_did_hold_the_title.html
7. The former Constitutional Senior Lecturer (Obama) cited the U.S. Constitution during his State of the Union Address. Unfortunately, the quote he cited was from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.
8. The B-Cast posted a video.
9. Free Republic: In the State of the Union Address, President Obama said: "We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal."
10. This was the wrong citing from President Obama. The promises are not a notion, and our founders named them unalienable rights. The document is our Declaration of Independence and it reads:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
11. This is the same guy who lectured the Supreme Court moments later in the same speech. When you are a phony, it's hard to keep facts straight. Keep this moving. Educate others."

Analyzing the Claims About Obama's Lost Law License

It's true that neither Barack nor Michelle Obama currently has an active law license authorizing them to practice in the state of Illinois. The Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission lists President Obama's registration status as "voluntarily retired." It also lists Michelle Obama's status as "voluntarily inactive."

Based on any existing evidence, however, it is not true that either of them surrendered their law license to avoid disciplinary action or criminal prosecution. Nor is it true, contrary to what has been claimed on thousands of anti-Obama blogs and websites, that the Obamas were "disbarred" or had their law licenses "revoked" for any reason. Disbarred attorneys are listed in the ARDC database as "not authorized to practice law due to discipline." The Obamas are not so listed.

Moreover, neither the Illinois State Bar Association nor the ARDC lists any accusations of misconduct or disciplinary actions against the Obamas. According to a statement from ARDC deputy administrator and chief counsel James Grogan, the Obamas were "never the subject of any public disciplinary proceedings."

Quite to the contrary, a notice on the website of the Illinois State Bar states that the Association is "proud" to retain Barack and Michelle Obama as honorary members. Lastly, it's not unusual for lawyers to go on inactive status if they have no immediate plans to practice law. According to the ARDC Annual Report, 12% of Illinois' 87,943 attorneys were registered as inactive in 2011.

Senior Lecturer vs Professor

It's true that, although both President Obama and the University of Chicago have stated at various times that he was a "professor of law" or "professor of constitutional law" at the U.C. Law School, he never officially held that title. He was first a Lecturer (1992-1996) and then a Senior Lecturer (1996-2004) until elected to the Senate in 2004.

These distinctions are explained in a media release published on the U.C. Law School website, which nevertheless pointedly states that Barack Obama served as a professor there regardless of his official title.

Constitution vs Declaration

As to Obama's statement that equal treatment under the law is a promise "enshrined in our Constitution" (State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010), it's true that the phrase "all men are created equal" originated in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. Thus, one can argue that Obama cited the wrong document.

However, one can also argue that he cited the right document, as the key word is "enshrined," which is defined as follows on Oxford Dictionaries Online:

"[To] preserve (a right, tradition, or idea) in a form that ensures it will be protected and respected."

Bear that definition in mind when reading Obama's statement in context:

"We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we're all created equal; that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else."


D'Angelo Gore. "The Obamas’ Law Licenses." FactCheck.org, June 14, 2012. 

Henderson, R. Michael, et al. "Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois." The state of Illinois. April 24, 2012. Chicago, Illinois.

"Statement Regarding Barack Obama." University of Chicago Law School. Chicago, Illinois.

"Enshrine." Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press.

The White House. "State of the Union Address." Miller Center, University of Virginia. January 27, 2010.