Incidental Motions

In this section:
21. Questions of Order and Appeal
22. Suspension of the Rules
23. Objection to the Consideration of a Question

See General Characteristics of Motions for further detail on these motions.


Questions of Order and Appeal

A Question of Order takes precedence of the pending question out of which it arises; is in order when another has the floor, even interrupting a speech or the reading of a report; does not require a second; cannot be amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it; yields to privileged motions and the motion to lay on the table; and must be decided by the presiding officer without debate, unless in doubtful cases he submits the question to the assembly for decision, in which case it is debatable whenever an appeal would be. Before rendering his decision he may request the advice of persons of experience, which advice or opinion should usually be given sitting to avoid the appearance of debate. If the chair is still in doubt, he may submit the question to the assembly for its decision in a manner similar to this: "Mr. A raises the point of order that the amendment just offered [state the amendment] is not germane to the resolution. The chair is in doubt, and submits the question to the assembly. The question is, 'Is the amendment germane to the resolution?"' As no appeal can be taken from the decision of the assembly, this question is open to debate whenever an appeal would be, if the chair decided the question and an appeal were made from that decision. Therefore, it is debatable except when it relates to indecorum, or transgression of the rules of speaking, or to the priority of business, or when it is made during a division of the assembly, or while an undebatable question is pending. The question is put thus: "As many as are of opinion that the amendment is germane [or that the point is well taken] say aye; as many as are of a contrary opinion say no. The ayes have it, the amendment is in order, and the question is on its adoption." If the negative vote is the larger it would be announced thus: "The noes have it, the amendment is out of order, and the question is on the adoption of the resolution." Whenever the presiding officer decides a question of order, he has the right, without leaving his chair, to state the reasons for his decision, and any two members have the right to appeal from the decision, one making the appeal and the other seconding it.

It is the duty of the presiding officer to enforce the rules and orders of the assembly, without debate or delay. It is also the right of every member who notices the breach of a rule, to insist upon its enforcement. In such a case he rises from his seat and says. "Mr. Chairman, I rise to a point of order." The speaker immediately takes his seat, and the chairman requests the member to state his point of order, which he does and resumes his seat. The chair decides the point, and then, if no appeal is taken and the member has not been guilty of any serious breach of decorum, the chair permits him to resume his speech. But, if his remarks are decided to be improper and any one objects, he cannot continue without a vote of the assembly to that effect. [See Decorum in Debate for a full treatment of this subject of indecorum in debate]. The question of order must be raised at the time the breach of order occurs, so that after a motion has been discussed it is too late to raise the question as to whether it was in order, or for the chair to rule the motion out of order. The only exception is where the motion is in violation of the laws, or the constitution, by-laws, or standing rules of the organization, or of fundamental parliamentary principles, so that if adopted it would be null and void. In such cases it is never too late to raise a point of order against the motion. This is called raising a question, or point, of order, because the member in effect puts to the chair, whose duty it is to enforce order, the question as to whether there is not now a breach of order.

Instead of the method just described, it is usual, when it is simply a case of improper language used in debate, for the chair to call the speaker to order, or for a member to say, "I call the gentleman to order." The chairman decides whether the speaker is in or out of order, and proceeds as before.

Appeal. An appeal may be made from any decision of the chair (except when another appeal is pending), but it can be made only at the time the ruling is made. It is in order while another member has the floor. If any debate or business has intervened it is too late to appeal. An answer to a parliamentary inquiry is not a decision, and therefore cannot be appealed from. While an appeal is pending a question of order may be raised, which the chair decides peremptorily, there being no appeal from this decision. But the question as to the correctness of the ruling can be brought up afterwards when no other business is pending. An appeal yields to privileged motions, and to the motion to lay on the table. The effect of subsidiary motions is as follows: An appeal cannot be amended. If the decision from which an appeal is taken is of such a nature that the reversal of the ruling would not in any way affect the consideration of, or action on, the main question, then the main question does not adhere to the appeal, and its consideration is resumed as soon as the appeal is laid on the table, postponed, etc. But if the ruling affects the consideration of, or action on, the main question, then the main question adheres to the appeal, and when the latter is laid on the table, or postponed, the main question goes with it. Thus, if the appeal is from the decision that a proposed amendment is out of order and the appeal is laid on the table, it would be absurd to come to final action on the main question and then afterwards reverse the decision of the chair and take up the amendment when there was no question to amend. The vote on an appeal may be reconsidered.

An appeal cannot be debated when it relates simply to indecorum, or to transgression of the rules of speaking, or to the priority of business, or if made during a division of the assembly, or while the immediately pending question is undebatable. When debatable, as it is in all other cases, no member is allowed to speak more than once except the presiding officer, who may at the close of the debate answer the arguments against the decision. Whether debatable or not, the chairman when stating the question on the appeal may, without leaving the chair, state the reasons for his decision.

When a member wishes to appeal from the decision of the chair he rises as soon a the decision is made, even though another has the floor, and without waiting to be recognized by the chair, says, "Mr. Chairman, I appeal from the decision of the chair." If this appeal is seconded, the chair should state clearly the question at issue, and his reasons for the decision if he thinks it necessary, and then state the question thus: "The question is, 'Shall the decision of the chair stand as the judgment of the assembly [or society, or club, etc.]?'" or, "Shall the decision of the chair be sustained?" To put the question he would say, "Those in the affirmative say aye," and after the affirmative vote has been taken he would say, "Those in the negative say no. The ayes have it and the decision of the chair is sustained [or stands as the judgment of the assembly]." Or, "The noes have it and the decision of the chair is reversed." In either case he immediately announces what is before the assembly as the result of the vote. If there is a tie vote the chair is sustained, and if the chair is a member of the assembly he may vote to make it a tie, on the principle that the decision of the chair stands until reversed by a majority, including the chairman if he is a member of the assembly. In stating the question, the word "assembly" should be replaced by "Society," or "club," or "board," etc., as the case may be. The announcement of a vote is not a decision of the chair. If a member doubts the correctness of the announcement he cannot appeal, but should call for a "Division" [See Division of Assembly] .

Suspension of the Rules

The motion to suspend the rules may be made at any time when no question is pending; or while a question is pending, provided it is for a purpose connected with that question. It yields to all the privileged motions (except a call for the orders of the day), to the motion to lay on the table, and to incidental motions arising out of itself. It is undebatable and cannot be amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it, nor can a vote on it be reconsidered, nor can a motion to suspend the rules for the same purpose be renewed at the same meeting except by unanimous consent, though it may be renewed after an adjournment, even if the next meeting is held the same day.

When the assembly wishes to do something that cannot be done without violating its own rules, and yet it is not in conflict with its constitution, or by-laws, or with the fundamental principles of parliamentary law, it "suspends the rules that interfere with" the proposed action. The object of the suspension must be specified, and nothing else can be done under the suspension. The rules that can be suspended are those relating to priority of business, or to business procedure, or to admission to the meetings, etc., and would usually be comprised under the heads of rules of order. Sometimes societies include in their by-laws some rules relating to the transaction of business without any intention, evidently, of giving these rules any greater stability than is possessed by other rules of their class, and they may be suspended the same as if they were called rules of order. A standing rule as defined in 67 may be suspended by a majority vote. But sometimes the term "standing rules" is applied to what are strictly rules of order, and then, like rules of order, they require a two-thirds vote for their suspension. Nothing that requires previous notice and a two-thirds vote for its amendment can be suspended by less than a two-thirds vote.

No rule can be suspended when the negative vote is as large as the minority protected by that rule; nor can a rule protecting absentees be suspended even by general consent or a unanimous vote. For instance, a rule requiring notice of a motion to be given at a previous meeting cannot be suspended by a unanimous vote, as it protects absentees who do not give their consent. A rule requiring officers to be elected by ballot cannot be suspended by a unanimous vote, because the rule protects a minority of one from exposing his vote, and this he must do if he votes openly in the negative, or objects to giving general consent. Nor can this result be accomplished by voting that the ballot of the assembly be cast by the secretary or any one else, as this does away with the essential principle of the ballot, namely, secrecy, and is a suspension of the by-law. and practically allows a viva voce vote. If it is desired to allow the suspension of a by-law that cannot be suspended under these rules, then it is necessary to provide in the by-laws for its suspension.

The Form of this motion is, "to suspend the rules that interfere with," etc., stating the object of the suspension, as, "the consideration of a resolution on ........," which resolution is immediately offered after the rules are suspended, the chair recognizing for that purpose the member that moved to suspend the rules. or, if it is desired to consider a question which has been laid on the table, and cannot be taken up at that time because that class of business is not then in order, or to consider a question that has been postponed to another time, or that is in the order of business for another time, then the motion may be made thus, "I move to suspend the rules and take up [or consider] the resolution ......" When the object is not to take up a question for discussion but to adopt it without debate, the motion is made thus: "I move to suspend the rules and adopt [or agree to] the following resolution," which is then read: or, "I move to suspend the rules, and adopt [or agree to] the resolution on ..." The same form may be used in a case like this: "I move to suspend the rules, and admit to the privileges of the floor members of sister societies," which merely admits them to the hall.

Instead of a formal motion to suspend the rules, it is more usual to ask for general consent to do the particular business that is out of order. As soon as the request is made the chair inquires if there is any objection, and if no one objects, he directs the member to proceed just as if the rules had been suspended by a formal vote. [See General Consent 48]


1. In Congress the former practice was to suspend the rule as to the order of business in order to consider a particular bill but now it is customary "to suspend the rule and pass" the resolution or bill. H.R. Rule 27 contains the following:

"1. No rule shall be suspended except by a vote of two-thirds of the members voting, a quorum being present; nor shall the Speaker entertain a motion to suspend the rules except on the first and third Mondays of each month, preference being given on the first Monday to Individuals and on the third Monday to committees, and during the last six days of a session.

"2. All motions to suspend the rules shall, before being submitted to the House, be seconded by a majority by tellers, if demanded.

"3. When a motion to suspend the rules has been seconded, it shall be in order, before the final vote is taken thereon, to debate the proposition to be voted upon for forty minutes, one-half of such time to be given to debate in favor of, and one-half to debate in opposition to, such proposition -- and the same right of debate shall be allowed whenever the previous question has been ordered on any proposition on which there has been no debate."

Objection to the Consideration of a Question

An objection may be made to the consideration of any original main motion, and to no others, provided it is made before there is any debate or before any subsidiary motion is stated. Thus, it may be applied to petitions and to communications that are not from a superior body, as well as to resolutions. It cannot be applied to incidental main motions [11], such as amendments to by-laws, or to reports of committees on subjects referred to them, etc. It is similar to a question of order in that it can be made when another has the floor, and does not require a second; and as the chairman can call a member to order, so he can put this question, if he deems it advisable, upon his own responsibility. It cannot be debated, or amended, or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it. It yields to privileged motions and to the motion to lay on the table. A negative, but not an affirmative vote on the consideration may be reconsidered.1

When an original main motion is made and any member wishes to prevent its consideration, he rises, although another has the floor, and says, "Mr. Chairman, I object to its consideration." The chairman immediately puts the question, "The consideration of the question has been objected to: Will the assembly consider it? [or, Shall the question be considered?]" If decided in the negative by a two-thirds vote, the whole matter is dismissed for that session; otherwise, the discussion continues as if this objection had never been made. The same question may be introduced at any succeeding session.

The Object of this motion is not to cut off debate (for which other motions are provided) but to enable the assembly to avoid altogether any question which it may deem irrelevant, unprofitable, or contentious. If the chair considers the question entirely outside the objects of the society, he should rule it out of order, from which decision an appeal may be taken.

Objection to the consideration of a question must not be confounded with objecting where unanimous consent, or a majority vote, is required. Thus, in case of the minority of a committee desiring to submit their views, a single member saying, "I object," prevents it, unless the assembly by a majority vote grants them permission.


1. In Congress the introduction of a question may be prevented temporarily by a majority vote under H.R. Rule 16, §3, which is as follows: "3. When any motion or proposition is made, the question, Will the House now consider it? shall not he put unless demanded by a member." lf the House refuses to consider a bill the vote cannot be reconsidered. But this refusal does not prevent the question's being again introduced the same session. In assemblies having brief sessions lasting usually only a few hours, or at most not over a week, it is necessary that the assembly have the power by a two-thirds vote to decide that a question shall not be introduced during that session. As the refusal to consider the question prevents its renewal during the session, the vote may be reconsidered.

Additional topics discussed in Roberts Rules related to Incidental Motions:

Division of a Question, and Consideration by Paragraph
Division of the Assembly, and other Motions relating to Voting
Motions relating to Nominations
Requests Growing out of the Business of the Assembly