Table (parliamentary procedure)

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In parliamentary procedure, a motion to table has two different and contradictory meanings:

  • In the United States, to table usually means the to lay [the topic] on the table or to move for postponement of consideration; a proposal to suspend consideration of a pending motion. Much less often, it means a motion to "put on the table": a proposal to begin consideration (or reconsideration), a usage consistent with the rest of the English-speaking world.
  • In the rest of the English-speaking world such as the United Kingdom, to table means to move to place [the topic] upon the table (or to move to place on the table): a proposal to begin consideration (or reconsideration) of a proposal.

Both the American and the British dialects have the sense of "to table" as to lay [the topic] on the table or to cause [the topic] to lie on the table. The difference is the idea of what the table is for, that of a shelf off to the side, or an active work bench.

The British meaning has the sense of the table as being an active work bench, with the topic being the centre of attention, considered and discussed by all until it can be resolved, at which point it is taken off the 'table'. This comes from the use of the term to describe physically laying legislation on the table in the British Parliament; once an item on the order paper has been laid on the table, it becomes the current subject for debate.

The American sense is that the table is like that of a shelf, archive, or long-term storage device, where the topic has been disposed of by sending it to the 'table' and leaving it there.

Use in the United States[edit]

Lay on the table (RONR)
Class Subsidiary motion
In order when another has the floor? No
Requires second? Yes
Debatable? No
May be reconsidered? Negative vote only
Amendable? No
Vote required: Majority

In United States parliamentary practice, two phrases—"lay on table" (or "lie on table" depending grammatically on whether the verb needed is transitive or intransitive) and "To put on the table"—have opposite meanings. Approval of the subsidiary motion to "lay [the topic] on the table" immediately sets aside the pending main motion and all pending subsidiary motions. The motion is not debatable. Beyond these characteristics, the purpose and effect of the motion to table vary according to which parliamentary authority is being used. The motion requires a majority vote except as indicated below. To "put on the table" means to make the issue available for debate[1] as in "The chair is prepared to put on the table".[2]

The use of terms such as "tabling a motion" in connection with setting aside or killing a main motion sometimes causes confusion with the usage of this term in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, where it has an opposite meaning—that is, to propose a motion for consideration. To make the intent clear internationally, Congressional Quarterly and its associated CQ publications, in reporting congressional votes, usually follow the word "table" (as used in Congress) with the word "kill" in parentheses.[3]

Under Robert's Rules of Order, the subsidiary motion to table is, properly, used only when it is necessary to suspend consideration of a main motion in order to deal with another matter that has come up unexpectedly and which must be dealt with before the pending motion can be properly addressed.[4] It has, however, become common to misuse the motion to end consideration of the pending main motion without debate, or to mistakenly assume that its adoption prevents further consideration of the main motion at all, or until a specified time.

A main motion that has been laid on the table (that has lain on the table) may be taken up again by adoption of a motion to take from the table. This motion is not debatable and requires a majority for adoption. A motion may be taken from the table only until the end of the next session (commonly, the next meeting) after the one in which it was laid on the table if that session occurs within a quarterly time interval (three months and until the end of the calendar month in which the three-month period ends) after the session in which it was laid on the table; if there is no session within that time, the motion may only be taken from the table during the current session. If these time limits are not met, the motion dies.

Robert's states that the use of the motion to "table" to kill a motion is improper because a majority vote should not be sufficient to permanently cut off debate on a main motion. Robert's recommends that a member seeking to avoid a direct vote on a main motion while immediately cutting off debate instead make a motion that requires a two-third vote: Either an objection to consideration of the question, which is in order only before debate has begun and requires a two-thirds vote to block further consideration of the main motion, or a motion to postpone indefinitely (in order at any time, majority vote required) followed by an immediate motion for the previous question (two-thirds vote required.) One of the disadvantages of trying to kill a measure by laying it on the table is that, if some opponents of the measure subsequently leave the meeting, a temporary majority favoring the measure can then take it from the table and act on it; or they may do so at a future session held within the next quarterly time interval.[5]

Congressional use[edit]

In both houses of the United States Congress, the motion to table is used to kill a motion without debate or a vote on the merits of the resolution.[6] The rules do not provide for taking the motion from the table, and therefore consideration of the motion may be resumed only by a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules.[7]

Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised and Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure[edit]

Under Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR), the subsidiary motion "to table" does not exist. The two motions with the word "table" included are to "lay [the topic] on the table" (to set it aside temporarily while another matter that has arisen is discussed; after the intervening matter is disposed of, the motion that was "laid on the table" may be renewed by the motion to "take from the table" or not as the assembly sees fit). The question or matter laid on the table is not permanently disposed of, and there are specific rules regarding adhering motions or pending points of order etc. which are determined by the parliamentary situation at the time the question was laid on the table. The motion to "lay [the topic] on the table" (to cause the topic to lie on the table) is properly used only when it is necessary to suspend consideration of a main motion in order to deal with another matter that has come up unexpectedly and which must be dealt with before the pending motion can be properly addressed.[8] It has, however, become common to misuse the motion to end consideration of the pending main motion without debate, or to mistakenly assume that its adoption prevents further consideration of the main motion at all, or until a specified time. There IS no motion "to table" explicitly stated in RONR.

Robert's Rules of Order states that the use of the motion to "table" to kill a motion is improper because a majority vote should not be sufficient to permanently cut off debate on a main motion. Robert's recommends that a member seeking to avoid a direct vote on a main motion while immediately cutting off debate instead make a motion that requires a two-third vote: Either an objection to consideration of the question (which is in order only before debate has begun and requires a two-thirds vote to block further consideration of the main motion) or a motion to postpone indefinitely (in order at any time, majority vote required) followed by an immediate motion to call the previous question (end debate and proceed to a vote on the motion), for which a two-thirds vote is required. One of the disadvantages of trying to kill a measure by laying it on the table is that, if some opponents of the measure subsequently leave the meeting, a temporary majority favoring the measure can then take it from the table and act on it; or they may do so at a future session held within the next quarterly time interval.[9]

Although the motion is not debatable, the chair can ask the maker of the motion to state his reason in order to establish the urgency and legitimate intent of the motion, or the maker can state it on his own initiative.[10]

The motion to take from the table under Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure has the same characteristics as under RONR.[11] Mason's Manual has a similar-sounding motion, take from the desk which a member uses when they desire to take up a matter that is on the desk, but on which no action has yet been taken.[12] The differences between the two motions are that take from the table is used after an item has been placed on the desk by a previous use of lay on the table and the motion is given a preference over new main motions offered at the same time. Take from the desk is used when an item is taken up that has not yet been introduced and this motion has no preference over new main motions that may be made at the same time.[11]

The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure and Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure[edit]

The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (TSC), 4th edition, the second-most-widely used parliamentary authority in the United States, approves of the motion to table either to temporarily set aside a main motion (in which case it is also called the motion to postpone temporarily, a motion not recognized in Robert's Rules) or to kill the main motion without a direct vote or further debate.

The Standard Code also uses the short form, table, which is discouraged by Robert's Rules. TSC allows use of the motion to postpone temporarily (or table) to temporarily set aside a main motion in a purpose and manner similar to Robert's Rules. However, TSC also allows use of this motion to kill the main motion without a direct vote or further vote, a use which is expressly forbidden under Robert's Rules. The Standard Code states that if the motion to table is used in circumstances suggesting that the purpose is to kill the main motion, a two-thirds vote should be required. This provision addresses the objections stated in Robert's. Objection to consideration of a question and motion to postpone indefinitely are not recognized in the Standard Code.

Under the Standard Code, the motion to take from the table must be made prior to the end of the current session, unlike Robert's Rules, which permits the motion to be made prior to the end of the following session if one is held within a quarterly time interval. The preferred name of the motion to take from the table, under TSC, is the motion to resume consideration.

Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book edition, generally follows the model of the Standard Code where the motion may be used to delay consideration of a Main Motion or to kill a motion without direct vote.[13] Demeter's also differs from Robert's Rules in that it allows the verbiage "to table". It ranks as the highest subsidiary motion and is not debatable, amendable, or eligible for reconsideration. Generally speaking, Demeter's allows all motions to be tabled except subsidiary motions, privileged motions, appeals of any kind, and motions concerning nominations or polls.[14]

Related motions[edit]

Take from the table (RONR)
Class Motion that brings a question again before the assembly
In order when another has the floor? No
Requires second? Yes
Debatable? No
May be reconsidered? No
Amendable? No
Vote required: Majority

Under Robert's Rules, a main motion that has been laid on the table may be taken up again by adoption of a motion to take from the table. This motion is not debatable and requires a majority for adoption. A motion may be taken from the table only until the end of the next session (commonly, the next meeting) after the one in which it was laid on the table, if that session occurs within three months after the session in which it was laid on the table; if there is no session within those three months, the motion may only be taken from the table during the current session. If these time limits are not met, the motion dies.

The corresponding motion under The Standard Code is called a motion to resume consideration. This motion must be made prior to the end of the current session, unlike Robert's Rules, which permits the motion to take from the table to be made prior to the end of the following session if one is held within a quarterly time interval.

Example of Anglo‐American confusion[edit]

In the Parliament of the United Kingdom and other parliaments based on the Westminster system, to "table" a measure means to propose it for consideration, as in bringing it to the table. In his book The Second World War, Volume 3: The Grand Alliance, Winston Churchill relates the confusion that arose between American and British military leaders during the Second World War:

The enjoyment of a common language was of course a supreme advantage in all British and American discussions. ... The British Staff prepared a paper which they wished to raise as a matter of urgency, and informed their American colleagues that they wished to "table it." To the American Staff "tabling" a paper meant putting it away in a drawer and forgetting it. A long and even acrimonious argument ensued before both parties realized that they were agreed on the merits and wanted the same thing.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Transcript: of Nancy Pelosi interview at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,480468,00.html.
  2. ^ http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-attend-copenhagen-climate-talks.
  3. ^ Leaders of organizations with international members should exercise awareness and care in chairing meetings by either avoiding use of the word table or by making their intended meaning of it explicitly clear by adding other (clarifying) words.
  4. ^ Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, pages 207-209, on Misuses of the motion.
  5. ^ RONR (10th ed.) p. 208
  6. ^ "Lay on the Table". Library of Congress. 
  7. ^ RONR, p 207, footnote. This usage of the motion to table is necessary under the heavy workload of Congress but is inappropriate in ordinary deliberative assemblies. Nonetheless, the example set in Congress is formidable and influential in meetings of less-renowned American organizations.
  8. ^ Robert, Henry M. (2000). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th ed., p. 207–209 (RONR)
  9. ^ RONR, p. 208
  10. ^ RONR, p. 203-204, 384
  11. ^ a b National Conference of State Legislatures (2000). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, p. 328
  12. ^ Mason, p. 330
  13. ^ Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book ed., p. 98
  14. ^ Demeter, George (1969). Demeter's Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, Blue Book ed., p. 101-102