In parliamentary procedure, unanimous consent, also known as general consent, or in the case of the parliaments under the Westminster system, leave of the house, is a situation in which no one present objects to a proposal. The chair may state, for instance: "If there is no objection, the motion will be adopted. [pause] Since there is no objection, the motion is adopted" or in Westminster parliaments, "There being no objection, leave is granted." On the most routine matters, such as inserting an article into the Congressional Record, the chair may shorten this statement to four words: "Without objection, so ordered" or even to two words: "Without objection" (Latin: nemine contradicente) If no member objects the motion is adopted, but if any member does declare opposition the motion is not adopted and cannot be agreed to without a vote.
Unanimous consent can greatly expedite business by eliminating the need for formal votes on routine procedural questions in which the existence of a consensus is likely. The principle behind it is that procedural safeguards designed to protect a minority can be waived when there is no minority to protect.
That a bill, treaty or nomination passes by unanimous consent does not necessarily indicate that every member of the body would have voted in favor of the proposal. It is sometimes used simply as a time-saving device, especially at the end of the session. Sometimes members do not want a formal recorded vote on the issue, or know that they would lose such a vote and not feel a need to take the time. Conversely, raising an objection does not necessarily imply that the objector disagrees with the proposal itself; he may simply believe it would be better to take a formal vote. Objections may also be used as a delaying tactic; the objector may have no disagreement with the proposal at issue, but chooses to object in order to force a time-consuming formal vote, which may include a period of debate as well.
In non-legislative deliberative bodies operating under Robert's Rules of Order, the unanimous consent device is often used to expedite the procedural consideration of uncontroversial secondary motions.
Sometimes unanimous consent can be assumed if the chair perceives that no one would raise an objection if he formally asked. For instance, if it is obvious that the members of an assembly are absorbed in listening to a speaker who has exceeded the time limits on debate, but is about to conclude his remarks, the chair may allow him to continue without interruption. Another example of this practice in the House of Representatives is when a series of votes has been interrupted by a speaker or other business. The chair will state, "Without objection, five minute voting will continue."
Passing legislation via unanimous consent does not require that every member of a legislature, nor that a majority of members, nor even a quorum of representatives, be present to vote. Unanimous consent merely requires that no representative of those present has asked to take a recorded vote or has requested quorum verification. For this reason, a claim that a piece of legislation was passed "unanimously", when in fact it was passed via "unanimous consent", can be misleading as to its level of support.
Certain rights of the minority can only be waived by unanimous consent. For example, in disciplinary procedures, "a single member can require the vote on the imposition of a penalty to be taken by ballot."
Government by unanimous consent
In his autobiography Nelson Mandela recounts episodes of Thembu government under a local chief conducted along the lines of unanimous consent. Quaker organizations also advocate this form of decision making.
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- Robert, Henry M. (2000). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th ed. Chapter 2, Section 4
- RONR, p. 53
- Rybicki, Elizabeth. "Voting and Quorum Procedures in the Senate". Congressional Research Service.
- see, e.g., Hamilton, Marci (2015). "The Case for Evidence-Based Free Exercise Accommodation: Why the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Is Bad Public Policy". Harvard Law & Policy Review 9: 145–146.
- RONR, p. 628
- Mandela, Nelson (1994). Long Walk to Freedom. Little, Brown and Company.