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Daniel H. Honemann

Idle Thoughts re Fundamental Principles

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General Robert has said (in ROR, on p. 109) that "fundamental principles of parliamentary law require a two-thirds vote for every motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate." This was in reference to misuse of Lay on the Table in order to kill a main motion for the remainder of the session, but it also means, it seems to me, that if an objection to consideration of a question is declared to have been sustained by less than a two-thirds vote, a point of order concerning this violation of the rules can be raised at any time later in the same session. A motion to suspend the rules and agree that the pending resolution (motion) be postponed indefinitely (assuming the legitimacy of such a motion; cf. RONR, 11th ed., p. 262, ll. 6-8) is another undebatable motion which, if adopted, will suppress a main question for the remainder of the session. These are the only two such motions that I can think of.

 

In Official Interpretation 2006-18 we are told that rules requiring a two-thirds vote can be suspended, and a point of order regarding their violation “must be timely.” I gather that the rules requiring a two-thirds vote for adoption of the two motions I have mentioned above are exceptions to this general statement as to suspendibility. (Of course, all points of order “must be timely”; the question to be answered is what is or is not “timely”. :))

 

In RONR we are told (at the very beginning) that one of the principles underlying parliamentary law is the rule that only two thirds or more of those present and voting may deny a minority or any member the right of full and free discussion. I think that this is, in fact, a fundamental principle, and that a point of order concerning a violation of the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to suppress debate can be raised at any time up until the order suppressing debate is exhausted, after which it will be too late. As a consequence, the fact that the requirement of a two-thirds vote to suppress debate is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law would appear to be of limited practical significance.

 

Thoughtful comments would be welcome.

 

 

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Ponder this similar parallel scenario.

Then make a decision on what is necessary to accomplish it.

***

Hypothetical.

An organization wishes to do away with the complexity of "two thirds votes" in general, so that they can execute all parliamentary votes via a majority vote.

Q. Can they adopt a special rule of order, whereby the new rule says, or implies,

"No parliamentary motion (i.e., non-Main Motion) shall require a vote greater than majority vote"?

***

Analyze:

If the concept of "Two thirds vote for Issue 'X'" is (or can touch upon) a true Fundamental Principle of Parliamentary Law,

then you must agree that a special rule of order is too low a level for such a rule to be validly adopted. --

Such a rule must be  bylaws-level or higher, and not hold the status of a lower-level special rule of order.

***

Contrari-wise:

If the reader thinks, "Yes, a special rule of order is sufficient for such a rule,"

then the reader is inferring that the rule does not (or will not?) touch upon a Fundamental Principle of Parliamentary Law,

as the new rule is exercised, across the board, to all parliamentary (non-Main) motions.

***

So, which is it?

     (a.) Such a rule must be incorporated into one's bylaws.

(Because you cannot suspend that which is a Fundamental Principle of Parliamentary Law; but you can "violate" a Fundamental Principle of Parliamentary Law if the level of your rule is sufficiently high, like one's bylaws, constitution, or the law of the land.)

     (b.) Such a rule can be adopted as a Special Rule of Order.

(Because the default RONR method of adoption of a Special Rule of Order is identical to the adoption/amendment of one's bylaws; so the stringent nature of the "adoption process" ensures that the Special Rule of Order has gone through an "adoption process" which satisfies RONR's default method of "amending one's bylaws", thus all safety nets of members' rights are safe and not-violated, as RONR's default method specifies, in both levels of rules.

 

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Ponder a convention.

Convention rules are often short-cuts.

One of the popular short cuts is for the Previous Question to be adoptable by majority vote.

This makes me think that a convention might choose to target likewise the two motion which Dan mentions: (namely, Obj. to Consid.; and Suspend the Rules for the purpose of adopting 'X').

Q. Would a convention (i.e., "convention rules") which takes away the "two thirds" threshold, be subject to attack by a Point of Order, likewise?

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6 hours ago, Kim Goldsworthy said:

Ponder a convention.

Convention rules are often short-cuts.

One of the popular short cuts is for the Previous Question to be adoptable by majority vote.

This makes me think that a convention might choose to target likewise the two motion which Dan mentions: (namely, Obj. to Consid.; and Suspend the Rules for the purpose of adopting 'X').

Q. Would a convention (i.e., "convention rules") which takes away the "two thirds" threshold, be subject to attack by a Point of Order, likewise?

The characterization of convention standing rules as "short-cuts" has me puzzled, but putting that aside, a motion to adopt convention standing rules of any kind is obviously not a "motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate."

If a motion to adopt a convention standing rule providing that "motions for the previous question shall require only a majority vote for their adoption" is erroneously declared to be adopted by less than a two-thirds vote, I think that a point of order will have to be raised concerning this violation of the rules promptly at the time when the breach occurs. This is not at all the same thing as shutting down debate on a pending main motion by less than a two-thirds vote. However, it is primarily this aspect of my initial post (its third paragraph) which I think might benefit from a bit of thoughtful comment.  :)

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On ‎8‎/‎18‎/‎2016 at 11:30 AM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

 

 

In RONR we are told (at the very beginning) that one of the principles underlying parliamentary law is the rule that only two thirds or more of those present and voting may deny a minority or any member the right of full and free discussion. I think that this is, in fact, a fundamental principle, and that a point of order concerning a violation of the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to suppress debate can be raised at any time up until the order suppressing debate is exhausted, after which it will be too late. As a consequence, the fact that the requirement of a two-thirds vote to suppress debate is a fundamental principle of parliamentary law would appear to be of limited practical significance.

 

 

 

 

This certainly seems reasonable to me.

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Consider the following situation. It is now the third day of a three-day convention. On the first day of the convention, one of the following two three scenarios occurred with regard to a particular main motion (M) that has just been moved and seconded.

Scenario A: Before consideration has begun, an Objection to the Consideration of the Question is made. A majority, but not two-thirds, vote against consideration, and the chair (erroneously) declares that the main motion will not be considered.

Scenario B: The maker of the main motion does not wish to speak first, and the first member who obtains the floor immediately moves "to suspend the rules and agree that the pending motion be postponed indefinitely." This motion attains a majority vote (but not a two-thirds vote) and the chair (erroneously) declares that this motion is adopted and the main motion is postponed indefinitely.

Scenario C: The maker of the motion does not wish to speak first, and the first member who obtains the floor immediately moves that the pending motion be postponed indefinitely. When the chair states the question, the same member immediately obtains the floor and moves the Previous Question. The Previous Question attains a majority vote (but not a two-thirds vote), and the chair (erroneously) declares that the Previous Question has been ordered on the motion to Postpone Indefinitely. The motion to Postpone Indefinitely is then voted on and adopted (by majority vote), and the chair declares that the main motion is postponed indefinitely.

The way I understand what you are saying, Dan, is that now, on day three:

In Scenarios A & B, a member can validly raise a Point of Order that the motion to Suspend the Rules was improperly declared adopted -- allowing a majority to suppress main motion M without (further) debate -- and so motion M should come back before the assembly; but

In Scenario C, it is too late to raise a Point of Order that the motion for the Previous Question was improperly declared adopted -- allowing a majority to suppress main motion M without (further) debate -- because the order suppressing debate was exhausted as soon as the vote was taken on the motion to Postpone Indefinitely, and that latter motion was properly adopted.

Edited by Shmuel Gerber
Corrected "two" to "three," to match the actual message

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Shmuel, I think your understanding as to what I have said is entirely correct.

In Scenario A, on day three, a member can validly raise a point of order that the objection to consideration of the main motion was improperly declared to have been sustained, and in Scenario B, a member can validly raise a point of order that the motion to suspend the rules was improperly declared to have been adopted.

In Scenario C, however, it is too late to raise a point of order that the motion for the previous question was improperly declared to have been adopted. The adoption of this motion did not suppress the main motion for the remainder of the session, it suppressed debate and amendment of the main motion, and this order suppressing debate and amendment was exhausted on day one when the motion to postpone indefinitely was adopted.

Suppose, however, on the first day of the convention a motion to order the previous question on all pending questions is improperly declared to have been adopted by less than a two-thirds vote at a time when a motion to postpone the main motion to day three is immediately pending, and this motion to postpone to day three is adopted. I have also suggested that, on day three when the main motion comes back before the assembly, it will not be too late for a member to raise a point of order that the motion for the previous question was improperly declared to have been adopted.

Frankly, I started this topic because I am fairly certain that we discussed all of this at length quite some time ago, and I have simply forgotten what it was that we decided was correct. So how about helping an old man out here.  :)

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>> General Robert has said (in ROR, on p. 109) that "fundamental principles of parliamentary law require a two-thirds vote for every motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate."

***
Note that the conundrum(s) goes away if you interpret Gen. Henry M. Robert's comment as being wrong, and the current edition and current interpretation (regarding chair errors on announcement) being correct.

Let me argue in favor of my assertion.

There is a consistency in the Eleventh Edition which may not be present in the 1915 Fourth Edition.

(Example: Under R.O.R. and P.L., you can rescind a defeated motion. A later edition explicitly changed this rule, so that "rescind" can only apply to that which has been adopted.)

Perhaps the common parliamentary law of 1876 is not the same as the common parliamentary law of 2016. Perhaps the common parliamentary law changes over time.

 

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Even General H. M. Robert recognized that there is an "old common parliamentary law" and a "new common parliamentary law."

Quote

 

[excerpt, R.O.R. Fourth Edition, 1915)]

The old common parliamentary law gives the same rank to the motions for the previous question, to postpone definitely, to commit, and to postpone indefinitely, so that no one of them can be moved while another one of them is pending; the House makes them rank in the order just named; while the Senate does not admit the motion for the previous question, and makes to postpone indefinitely outrank all the others. The practice of the House in this matter establishes the parliamentary law of this country, as it does in all cases where its practice is not due to the great quantity of its business or the necessities of party government.

 

And Mr. Robert continues in the 4th ed. (a.) on how the House of Representatives has "modified" the common parliamentary law, and (b.) on "fundamental rights", and (c.) on closing debate by a two-thirds vote.

Quote

The modifications made by the House in regard to the previous question have made that motion extremely simple and useful, and its practice establishes the parliamentary law of the country as to the previous question, except in respect to its being ordered by majority vote and forty minutes' debate being allowed after it has been ordered, if the proposition has no been previously debated.

It is necessary in Congress for the majority to have the power to close debate, but, such a power being in conflict with the fundamental rights of a deliberative assembly, Congress has modified it so as not to cut off debate entirely. In an ordinary assembly, with sessions not exceeding two or three hours, it should, and it does, have the power by a two-thirds vote to close debate instantly, just as by the same vote it may suspend the rules.

 

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1 hour ago, Kim Goldsworthy said:

>> General Robert has said (in ROR, on p. 109) that "fundamental principles of parliamentary law require a two-thirds vote for every motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate."

***
Note that the conundrum(s) goes away if you interpret Gen. Henry M. Robert's comment as being wrong, and the current edition and current interpretation (regarding chair errors on announcement) being correct.

What conundrum goes away? I'm not aware of any.

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13 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

Frankly, I started this topic because I am fairly certain that we discussed all of this at length quite some time ago, and I have simply forgotten what it was that we decided was correct. So how about helping an old man out here.  :)

I don't have a clear recollection (or, truth be told, much any recollection) of having decided what is correct in this regard.

But I think Kim Goldsworthy is actually onto two relevant points. First, that RONR does not say, as ROR does, that "fundamental principles of parliamentary law require a two-thirds vote for every motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate." It simply says that using Lay on the Table to suppress a question without debate is "in violation of a basic principle of general parliamentary law that only a two-thirds vote can rightfully suppress a main question without allowing free debate." So perhaps the fact that no change was made in this regard on page 263 of the 11th edition, in the paragraph that discusses rules which embody fundamental principles of parliamentary law, indicates that we believed no change desirable.

Second, I don't really understand your answer to his point regarding the adoption of convention rules.

On 8/18/2016 at 10:57 PM, Kim Goldsworthy said:

One of the popular short cuts is for the Previous Question to be adoptable by majority vote.

This makes me think that a convention might choose to target likewise the two motion which Dan mentions: (namely, Obj. to Consid.; and Suspend the Rules for the purpose of adopting 'X').

Q. Would a convention (i.e., "convention rules") which takes away the "two thirds" threshold, be subject to attack by a Point of Order, likewise?

 

On 8/19/2016 at 6:21 AM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

... a motion to adopt convention standing rules of any kind is obviously not a "motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate."

If the rule in question is one that would allow an Objection to Consideration to be sustained by a negative vote of less than two-thirds, then isn't that tantamount to suspending, for the duration of the session, the ordinary rule -- which General Robert says is necessitated by the fundamental principles of parliamentary law -- that a two-thirds vote is required?

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14 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

Suppose, however, on the first day of the convention a motion to order the previous question on all pending questions is improperly declared to have been adopted by less than a two-thirds vote at a time when a motion to postpone the main motion to day three is immediately pending, and this motion to postpone to day three is adopted. I have also suggested that, on day three when the main motion comes back before the assembly, it will not be too late for a member to raise a point of order that the motion for the previous question was improperly declared to have been adopted.

I agree that it seems only fair that a member ought to be able to raise a point of order in this case, but I'm not really convinced that the current rules say that he can do so.

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Well, if I was not firmly convinced in the past that no distinction can or should be drawn between the phrases “basic principle of general parliamentary law” and “fundamental principle of parliamentary law”, as these two phrases are used in RONR, I am now. I do not think that any real effort has as yet been made to list every fundamental principle of parliamentary law in the discussion of rules that cannot be suspended on pages 263-265, and I am confident that we have neither asserted nor implied that we have included every such principle in that discussion.

 

With regard to convention standing rules, as previously noted, a motion to adopt a convention standing rule is obviously not a "motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate", and so we are not here dealing with the basic principal of parliamentary law that a two-thirds vote is required for the adoption of such a motion (even although such a motion does, of course, require a two-thirds vote for its adoption). If the rule in question is one that would allow an objection to consideration to be sustained by a negative vote of less than two-thirds, and such a rule is adopted by a two-thirds vote, then the two-thirds vote requirement has effectively been satisfied. In other words, since a two-thirds vote can suppress main motions for the duration of a session, then a two-thirds vote can permit suppression of main motions by majority vote.

 

But a concern here is with the question as to what the situation will be if such a rule is erroneously declared to be adopted by less than a two-thirds vote. In a previous response, I said that I thought that a point of order would have to be raised concerning this violation of the rules promptly at the time when the breach occurs, but I’m having second thoughts about this.

 

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3 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

If the rule in question is one that would allow an objection to consideration to be sustained by a negative vote of less than two-thirds, and such a rule is adopted by a two-thirds vote, then the two-thirds vote requirement has effectively been satisfied. In other words, since a two-thirds vote can suppress main motions for the duration of a session, then a two-thirds vote can permit suppression of main motions by majority vote.

But RONR says, "Rules which embody fundamental principles of parliamentary law . . . cannot be suspended, even by a unanimous vote." The rule in question happens to involve a voting requirement, but I don't think that makes it relevant what the vote required to suspend the rules is. If the fundamental principles of parliamentary law require that a main motion can't be suppressed without debate except by a two-thirds vote, then that requirement cannot be suspended in advance (by a two-thirds vote or a unanimous vote) any more than a point of order regarding its violation would need to be made immediately after its violation. (And, for that matter, aren't you begging the question by assuming that a two-thirds vote can suppress main motions for the duration of a session? Doesn't that leave the assembly operating outside the very same fundamental principles of parliamentary law we are discussing?)

Let me put this another way. You want to say that the two-thirds vote requirement has "effectively been satisfied" by the suspension of a rule embodying a fundamental principle of parliamentary law to allow particular questions to be suppressed by majority vote later in the session. So then, in the case where a question was erroneously suppressed without debate by a majority vote, why not say that the two-thirds vote requirement has "effectively been waived by unanimous consent" when no timely point of order is raised that there wasn't a two-thirds vote?

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What RONR says is that  "Rules which embody fundamental principles of parliamentary law, such as ...  cannot be suspended, even by a unanimous vote", and it then goes on to list a number of them which cannot be suspended, even by a unanimous vote. It is absurd to say, however, that a rule (even a fundamental principle) which requires a two-thirds vote for the adoption of something cannot be suspended by a two-thirds vote.

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Doesn't it sound almost equally absurd to say that a rule requiring a 2/3 vote for something is a rule that cannot be suspended, even by a unanimous vote?  Why would any group larger than 2/3 of the assembly ever want to suspend such a rule?  

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On 8/18/2016 at 0:30 PM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

In Official Interpretation 2006-18 we are told that rules requiring a two-thirds vote can be suspended, and a point of order regarding their violation “must be timely.” I gather that the rules requiring a two-thirds vote for adoption of the two motions I have mentioned above are exceptions to this general statement as to suspendibility.

 

7 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

It is absurd to say, however, that a rule (even a fundamental principle) which requires a two-thirds vote for the adoption of something cannot be suspended by a two-thirds vote.

I'm afraid I'm having trouble keeping up with you on this one, Dan. :)

I'm not really sure, but I think what you're saying is that the rules requiring a two-thirds vote for a motion to suspend the rules and postpone a motion indefinitely can't be suspended . . . unless the suspension is done by a two-thirds vote, which is the normal requirement for a motion to Suspend the Rules in any event, as well as the requirement for adopting the motion in question (which is itself a motion to Suspend the Rules) to begin with. :wacko:

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5 hours ago, Shmuel Gerber said:

 

I'm afraid I'm having trouble keeping up with you on this one, Dan. :)

I'm not really sure, but I think what you're saying is that the rules requiring a two-thirds vote for a motion to suspend the rules and postpone a motion indefinitely can't be suspended . . . unless the suspension is done by a two-thirds vote, which is the normal requirement for a motion to Suspend the Rules in any event, as well as the requirement for adopting the motion in question (which is itself a motion to Suspend the Rules) to begin with. :wacko:

Of course. This is what idle thoughts are for.  :)

Actually, I don't think that any of this is all that complicated. RONR stresses the fact that the right of full and free discussion is a necessary element of a deliberative assembly, and refers to the requirement of a two-thirds vote in order to suppress debate as being both an "underlying principle" of parliamentary law as well as a "basic principle" of parliamentary law. In my opinion, this is rather clearly telling us that it is a "fundamental principle" of parliamentary law as well.

What does this mean? It means to me that whenever debate has erroneously been declared to have been suppressed by a vote which was, in fact, less than a two-thirds vote, a point of order concerning this violation of the rules can be raised at any time during the continuance of the breach.

Awhile back, you presented three different scenarios, and I presented another, and in each instance we saw what happens when it is understood that it is a fundamental principal of parliamentary law that a two-thirds vote is required to suppress debate.

My good friend Ann Rempel had no problem understanding this. What's the matter with you guys? 

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2 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

What does this mean? It means to me that whenever debate has erroneously been declared to have been suppressed by a vote which was, in fact, less than a two-thirds vote, a point of order concerning this violation of the rules can be raised at any time during the continuance of the breach.

Few of us are as reasonable as Ms. Rempel, that's for sure, but as Mr.  Tesser is/was fond of saying, I'm glad this wasn't on my RP test or I'd be kaput, since I would not have viewed it as a continuing breach of the rules. :(   Keep up the idle thoughts since we always learn a lot from them.

Edited by George Mervosh

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On ‎8‎/‎24‎/‎2016 at 5:56 AM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

My good friend Ann Rempel had no problem understanding this. What's the matter with you guys? 

Yes, I keep wondering about that!

I wish all of you were here at the NAP Training Conference in CO. I'm sure you would present a lively workshop that we would all enjoy. If not, George would take us to the bar. Of course, he might do that anyway.

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On 8/18/2016 at 2:22 PM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

I suggest you look at the first sentence on page 16, and its footnote.

I think that the footnote on p. 16 may be the expression of a Fundamental Principle.  :)

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On 8/24/2016 at 6:56 AM, Daniel H. Honemann said:

What does this mean? It means to me that whenever debate has erroneously been declared to have been suppressed by a vote which was, in fact, less than a two-thirds vote, a point of order concerning this violation of the rules can be raised at any time during the continuance of the breach.

 

It may be reasonable to ask when the breach has ended; I think, at worst, we are talking about a "healed breach."

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1 hour ago, J. J. said:

It may be reasonable to ask when the breach has ended; I think, at worst, we are talking about a "healed breach."

I offered an answer to this question in the third paragraph of my initial post, where I said that "a point of order concerning a violation of the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to suppress debate can be raised at any time up until the order suppressing debate is exhausted, after which it will be too late."

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3 hours ago, Daniel H. Honemann said:

I offered an answer to this question in the third paragraph of my initial post, where I said that "a point of order concerning a violation of the rule requiring a two-thirds vote to suppress debate can be raised at any time up until the order suppressing debate is exhausted, after which it will be too late."

It would be a small window, perhaps even smaller than that.  I would distinguish between when debate is exhausted, via some order and when a vote was taken under an order that also closed debate. 

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