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Why did Michelle Obama give up her license to practice law in 1993?

Records at the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois list her status as “voluntarily inactive and not authorized to practice law.”

It further states that Michelle license is “on court ordered inactive status.”

The statement has many bloggers wondering why a court would issue an order to stop Michelle Obama from practicing law, and some have even suggested the first lady may have been facing allegations of misconduct.


Michelle Obama’sIllinois registration status listed as “court ordered inactive”

Michelle Obama, known as Michelle Robinson at the time, attended Princeton University and earned her juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1988. She took the bar exam in Illinois, passing it on her second try and receiving her license from the state of Illinois.


Michelle Robinson as a Harvard student before she becomes Michelle Obama (photo: Harvard University)

In 1988, Michelle became an associate at Sidley & Austin, a corporate law firm in her home town of Chicago. She was assigned to mentor summer associate and future husband, Barack Obama.

She remained at the law firm for three years, leaving the lucrative practice and corporate law behind in 1991 upon her father’s death. According to the Washington Post, Sidley & Austin offered Barack Obama a job upon his graduation from Harvard, but the future president declined – even though he planned on returning to Chicago. He explained that he wanted to go into politics and that Michelle would be leaving the firm to go with him.

According to the New York Times, Michelle was unfulfilled by her law career. She told the newspaper, “I wanted to have a career motivated by passion and not just money.”

She elaborated in an interview with Newsweek: “I didn’t see a whole lot of people who were just thrilled to be there,” she said. “I met people who thought this was a good life. But were people waking up just bounding out of bed to get to work? No.”


Rev. Wright marries Barack and Michelle Obama in 1992

In 1991, Michelle wrote to Valerie Jarrett, then-deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Jarrett offered her a job as an assistant to the mayor, a position that offered $60,000 a year. When Jarrett was promoted to head the Department of Planning and Development, Michelle became an “economic development coordinator,” responsible for “developing strategies and negotiating business agreements to promote and stimulate economic growth within the City of Chicago.”

Michelle and Obama married in 1992 at Trinity United Church of Christ, in a ceremony officiated by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

In 1993, Michelle left the mayor’s office and became executive director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a taxpayer-funded organization that encourages young activists and places them in positions for nonprofit groups and government agencies. Barack Obama was a member of the group’s founding advisory board.

Public Allies promises to help adults, ages 18 to 30, find “community leadership” positions and attend weekly training workshops and retreats. Recruits receive a monthly stipend of up to $1,800, plus paid health and child care and an additional award of $4,725 to pay for student loans or college tuition.

According to Investor’s Business Daily, the program promotes “diversity and inclusion” and boasts that more than 70 percent of its recruits are “people of color.”

“When they’re not protesting, they’re staffing AIDS clinics, handing out condoms, bailing criminals out of jail and helping illegal aliens and the homeless obtain food stamps and other welfare,” Investor’s Business Daily states.

One member of the 2005 Los Angeles class told IBD, “It was too touchy-feely. It’s a lot of talk about race, a lot of talk about sexism, a lot of talk about homophobia, talk about -isms and phobias.”

According to the report, one of those -isms is “heterosexism.” The Chicago-based Public Allies training seminar describes it as a negative result of “capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and male-dominated privilege.”

The IBD report calls it “a boot camp for radicals who hate the military.”

Michelle Obama worked at Public Allies from spring 1993 until fall 1996 and served on its national board of directors from 1997 until 2001. She said, “The happiest time of my life was working to build Public Allies.”

On the campaign trail with her husband last year, Michelle touted her choice to give up a lucrative legal career for community service.

“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” she said. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that.”


Michelle Obama campaigns for her husband

In 1993, the same year she began working for Public Allies, she applied to change her Illinois registration status for practicing law – only four years after she received her license. It is now listed as “inactive.”

James Grogan, deputy administrator and chief counsel for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, or ARDC, has been with the commission for 30 years. He told WND that on July 1, 1994, the Illinois Supreme Court entered an order allowing Michelle to be transferred to inactive status pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court rule 770.

The ARDC website explains, “Prior to November 1, 1999, former Supreme Court Rule 770 provided for a proceeding in the Court for any voluntary transfer to inactive status, whether because of some incapacitating condition or solely as a matter of the lawyer’s preference because the lawyer would not be practicing law.”

Grogan explained, “At the time, the only way to go on inactive status was to do what she did – which was to file a petition in the Illinois Supreme Court.”

He said attorneys often filed a petition for 770 when they wanted to pursue other careers, retire or begin raising a family.

“At the time, this happened all the time,” he said. “Our office would have to file what’s known as a consent.”

Grogan said his office would have immediately alerted the court in a public filing if there had been reason to believe she should face disciplinary action.

“We filed a consent in Michelle Obama’s case in which we had no objection to her transferring to inactive status,” he said. “In the event that she did go on inactive status and she engaged in any disbarrable offenses, there would be a disciplinary case of public record.”

He continued, “Just because someone goes on inactive it doesn’t deprive us of the jurisdiction to prosecute.”

Inundated by numerous 770 filings that each required a separate court ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court later simplified the inactivation process. In 2005, after Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, he changed his status to inactive as well.

“By 2005, which is several years later than his wife, the rule had changed such that you no longer had to file a petition that was such a pain for the court,” Grogan explained. “Instead, the court had changed it to two types of status: inactive or retired. Either situation involves merely sending a letter to us basically saying, ‘I want to transfer to inactive status.’”

Active lawyers are required to pay $289 each year and take 30 hours of Continuing Legal Education, or CLE, every two years. Under inactive status, attorneys are not required to take the courses, but they must pay $105 each year. “Inactive” registrants are not authorized to practice law. Lawyers who retire do not have to pay fees or take courses.

“A lot of people who aren’t practicing say, ‘Why bother?’” Grogan said.

Barack Obama remained listed as inactive until he retired this year.


Barack Obama listed as “retired”

“If you are currently inactive and want to get back in, all you have to do is send us a letter and pay the current balance of your registration,” Grogan said. “However, if you’re retired and want to come back in, you have to pay the full registration fee for the years you were out. I don’t think Obama’s going to come back to Chicago to practice, you know what I mean?”

In the case of Michelle Obama, Grogan said she would need to obtain another court order to reactivate her status because her file still falls under old rules that required her to go through the court for all status changes. He called her 1993 petition “unremarkable,” saying there is no reason to believe her standing was in question.

“There’s absolutely no indication of any disciplinary proceeding ever lodged against Michelle Obama,” he said.

In June 1996, she was named associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago. In 2002, she began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals, eventually earning $317,000 a year after her husband became a senator. She scaled back her responsibilities to support Barack Obama’s presidential campaign

The White House declined to respond to questions about the status of her license. Michelle Obama has not revealed exactly what prompted her to change her status to inactive or whether she plans to ever practice law again.


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