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DrEntropy

Two Thirds vote to close debate, History

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Has anyone investigated the source of the two-thirds vote requirement for "previous question" (and a few other things of course).   I can't find anything in RONR 11th, but in the 1st edition the General mentions: "In ordinary societies more regard should be paid to the rights of the minority, and a two-thirds vote be required, as in this Manual, for sustaining an objection to the introduction of a question, or for adopting a motion for the Previous Question, or for adopting an order closing or limiting debate. In this respect the policy of the Pocket Manual is a mean between those of the House and Senate."   I believe at that time the House (as now) used a majority vote, and the Senate had no such motion.

Older sources seem to require a majority vote (e.g. Cushings)

Was this a creation of the General?

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Well, the House uses a majority vote, but its effect is not to immediately close debate.  Rather, it sets a time limit and requires the time be split between those in favor and opposed.  

In the Senate, at that time, filibustering required an actual filibuster.  It had no cloture rule until 1917, at which time it adopted a rule requiring a 2/3 vote, after which each member could still speak for an hour - 100 hours of debate being quite far from what we think of when we vote to end debate.  

It's not entirely clear to me that 2/3 to immediately end debate is a mean between no mechanism to end debate, and a rule in which a majority can let a strict time limit on debate, but it's not entirely clear to me that it isn't, either.  

I've always been a little puzzled by the reliance on 2/3, which seems to amount to: we must protect the right of the majority to act, but only after hearing from the minority (makes sense), unless 2/3 decides it's heard enough from the minority (arbitrary).  I always sort of gloss over that when teaching, and I assume that the reason I don't know a deeper meaning is that I haven't yet read Parliamentary Law.

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Thanks for your contribution to my thinking on this.  I took a look in Parliamentary Law and there is a nice discussion about it that I will not repeat here, but it says that it should be "the same vote as required for suspending the rules", since in some sense it suspends the normal rules of debate.  I note that the US House under it's current rules also requires a 2/3 vote to suspend the rules, but I don't know the history of that particular rule, but intend to pursue it! 

 

As for why "2/3" ,  I think it is a bit arbitrary, but it is also   natural in that it is the next bigger fraction that is easy to calculate ( "twice as many for as are against").  

 

Edited by DrEntropy

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Hi John, thanks for sending your article, I meant to post a reference to it here for the benefit of others, as I had just rediscovered it a few days ago while searching through the PJ index !  

 

Cheers

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On 1/31/2018 at 11:38 AM, DrEntropy said:

Has anyone investigated the source of the two-thirds vote requirement for "previous question" (and a few other things of course).

RONR 11th ed., page xxxvii, says:

Jefferson compiled his Manual of Parliamentary Practice, published in 1801. In it, he extensively cited about fifty English works and documents on parliamentary law and related subjects. Among his sources, however, Jefferson in his preface to the Manual (p. xv) acknowledges primary indebtedness to Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons by John Hatsell, who was clerk of the House of Commons from 1768 to 1820. First published in 1781, Hatsell's work is today the best authority on eighteenth-century procedure in the House of Commons.

An electronic search of Jefferson's Manual find's a several situations requiring a two-thirds vote.

An electronic search of Hatsell's Precedents (4 volumes) found none.

 

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