Fact Check

Hillary Clinton Disbarred

Hillary Clinton's license to practice law lapsed in 2002, but not because she was disbarred or otherwise sanctioned for professional misconduct.

Published Mar 21, 2016

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Hillary Clinton was disbarred and stripped of her license to practice law.

The legal career of Hillary Clinton has been under scrutiny since she became First Lady during her husband's presidency in 1993, and has continued through her campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and again in 2016. For years rumors have incorrectly asserted that Mrs. Clinton was fired from the Watergate investigation for "unethical conduct" and that at some point during her career she was disbarred for legal misconduct.

Unlike rumors that started on specific blogs or in social media spaces, the claim Clinton was disbarred was rife, nebulous, and lacking corroboration:

Despite frequent repetition of this claim, those who spread this rumor never reference any particular incident that led to Hillary Clinton's alleged disbarment, nor even the timeframe in which it supposedly occurred. Mrs. Clinton's career in law began in 1973, and as late as 1994 the New York Times described her as an active partner at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm. Had her legal license been revoked any time prior to 1994, it surely would have warranted some mention at that time.

Hillary Clinton ran a successful campaign for election to the U.S. Senate representing New York in 2000, marking a career shift from law to politics. In 2002, her license to practice law in Arkansas was suspended due to failure to complete a continuing education requirement, a not surprising turn of events given that by then she was a New York resident working in Washington, D.C., and was no longer living, working, or practicing law in Arkansas.

It's possible that many people have mistakenly construed the lapsing of Hillary's Arkansas law license as a punishment related to misconduct (or that they misremembered partisan speculation about her potential disbarment as actual fact). Another possible element of confusion might be the 1 October 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that temporarily suspended the Arkansas law license of her husband, Bill Clinton, for five years. (In January 2006, Bill Clinton became eligible to seek reinstatement of his license to practice law, but as of 2013 had not applied to do so.)

Hillary Clinton served as a U.S. senator representing the state of New York from 3 January 2001 until 21 January 2009, and in December 2008 she was confirmed as Secretary of State (effective 21 January 2009) for the incoming Obama administration. As was the case with Barack and Michelle Obama (both of whom were also lawyers),
neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton required active law licenses after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, although Mrs. Clinton continued to practice law as late as 1994. (Similar false rumors holding that one or both of the Obamas were stripped of their law licenses have also circulated for many years, but as with Hillary Clinton, the Obamas simply allowed their licenses to go on inactive status since neither or them was actively practicing law any more.)

While it is true that Bill Clinton temporarily lost his privilege to practice law in 2001, he became eligible for reinstatement in 2006. Hillary Clinton's license to practice law in Arkansas lapsed in 2002, while she held a seat in the U.S. senate, and after which she served as U.S. secretary of state. Since neither office required Hillary Clinton to maintain her law license, nor was it necessary for her presidential campaign, her law license has remained inactive ever since. But the lapsed status of her license is not in any way related to professional misconduct, nor is it equivalent to disbarment.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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