Dilatory motions and tactics

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Dilatory tactics or motions, in parliamentary procedure, are those tactics used to delay or obstruct business, annoy the deliberative assembly, or, in legislative procedure, to delay consideration of a subject. Some types of motions are suitable only for specific circumstances, and their use is otherwise absurd and dilatory. For instance, a motion to refer (commit) a resolution to a committee is dilatory if its object would be defeated by the delay in taking action.[1][clarification needed] At a special meeting called to consider a matter, a motion to lay that matter on the table is also dilatory.[2][importance?]

Reasonableness is often used as a criterion in deciding whether a motion is dilatory. A motion to appeal the ruling of the chair is dilatory if there cannot possibly be two reasonable opinions about the ruling.[3] Likewise, under common parliamentary law, a motion for a division of the assembly is dilatory if the results of the voice vote are already clear to any reasonable person.[4] However, in the United States Congress, the constitutional right of a member to demand the yeas and nays cannot be denied even if the purpose is dilatory.[5] The repetitive use of privileged motions can also be dilatory. Robert's Rules of Order, 10th edition notes:[6]

In legislative bodies, dilatory motions can take the form of demanding quorum calls and votes at every opportunity. Another dilatory tactic is for members to not answer when their name is called during the quorum roll call. The problem of dilatory tactics in such bodies dates back to the beginnings of parliamentary procedure in England and the United States. Jefferson's Manual, for instance, only requires the Speaker to direct a bill to be read upon the desire of any member "if the request is really for information and not for delay."[7] In the US Senate, there are no formal rules against dilatory tactics except under cloture.[8] Between 1831 and 1900, dilatory votes to adjourn composed more than 10 percent of all Senate votes, and successfully delayed recognition of Louisiana's Reconstruction government until 1865.[9] Binder notes that in the 46th United States Congress, motions to adjourn consumed 23 percent of all floor votes.[10] Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed famously took countermeasures against dilatory tactics, such as ruling dilatory motions out of order, and was sustained by the house. Some legislatures impose quotas on dilatory motions. For instance, the Nova Scotia House of Assembly imposes a maximum of one motion to hoist, one motion to refer to a committee, and one reasoned amendment per reading.[11] The Rules of the U.S. Congress as revised in 1911 declare that no dilatory motion shall be entertained by the Speaker.

Robert's Rules of Order notes that a presiding officer has a duty to protect the assembly from the abuse of parliamentary processes for dilatory purposes.[12] If he becomes convinced that a member is using parliamentary processes for dilatory purposes, he can rule the motions out of order or refuse to recognize the member.[13] But "[i]f the chair only suspects that a motion is not made in good faith, he should give the maker of the motion the benefit of the doubt."[12]

Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure states:[14]

Dilatory motions and tactics can also occur in judicial contexts, when one side uses them to slow down the trial.[15]

Other meanings[edit]

The term "dilatory motion" does not always refer to an ill-intentioned motion. In Canada, "dilatory" motions refer to those "designed to dispose of the original question before the House either for the time being or permanently," and includes, for instance, motions to proceed to the orders of the day; postpone definitely; adjourn; and so on.[16] Jeremy Bentham held that such types of dilatory motions are useful, noting, "Precipitation may arise from two causes: from ignorance, when a judgment is formed without the collection of all the information required—from passion, when there is not the necessary calm for considering the question in all its aspects."[17]


  1. ^ Robert's Rules of Order (10th ed.), p. 164-165.
  2. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 207-208.
  3. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 248
  4. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 272.
  5. ^ Beard, Charles Austin. American Government and Politics. p. 273. 
  6. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 232.
  7. ^ Jefferson, Manual, §32
  8. ^ TheCapitol.Net > Glossary > D, E, F
  9. ^ Sarah A. Binder, Steven S. Smith. Politics Or Principle?: Filibustering in the United States Senate. p. 62. 
  10. ^ Binder, Sarah A. Minority Rights, Majority Rule: Partisanship and the Development of Congress. p. 124. 
  11. ^ http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/hansard/han56-1/11.htm
  12. ^ a b RONR (10th ed.), p. 331-332.
  13. ^ RONR (10th ed.), p. 434-434.
  14. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures (2000). Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, 2000 ed., p. 142
  15. ^ "The Proceedings In Detail.; The Defense Make Many Dilatory Motions, Which Are Overruled". The New York Times. 1882-12-08. Retrieved 2010-05-01. 
  16. ^ The Process of Debate - Motions
  17. ^ Online Library of Liberty - CHAPTER XIII.: OF DILATORY MOTIONS, OR MOTIONS OF ADJOURNMENT. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2