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PRECEDENCE OF MOTIONS
"Precedence" and "precede," from the Latin præcedere, "to go before," have the idea of prior place, first in order, and so to take precedence, to come before, as with superior rank, and prior claim to attention. To take precedence is a much-used phrase in parliamentary law as applied to motions. For example, it is said that one motion takes precedence of another motion. To use an accepted expression, one motion has "the right of way" as against another motion.
Motions vary in their relative grade and in their right of preference or precedence. Thus some motions may be presented and be in order when other motions already are before the body, and there may be a motion so high in relative rank that over it no other motion can take precedence, or, at a particular time, even have an equal standing. In other words, while it may be offered though some other motion is pending, no other motion can be offered when it is under consideration.
While there is a general order of business there is also a settled order of precedence in the making and consideration of motions.
By precedence is meant the superiority of one motion over another motion, which permits it to be presented when another motion is before the house. When a motion or motions may be pending, and yet another motion can be made, it is said to take precedence. When a motion is thus superseded by a superior motion it is said that it yields to it. When a motion of higher rank is made, direct action on the lower motion or motions is suspended, and the action is first on the superior motion. In consequence of this order of precedence, when a higher
motion is pending, a lower one cannot be made, but a superior motion can be made when one inferior to it is pending.
For the sake of uniformity and propriety of action there is a settled order of precedence or superiority, so that it may be known what motion can take precedence of, or supersede, another or others. Generally speaking, this order is not arbitrary, but has been tested by experience, and will commend itself to those who reflect.
At the base of all the motions is the principal or main motion. Usually it is made when no other motion is before the house, but now and then, when another matter is before the body, a new motion may, for the time being, become a main question.
The principal or primary motion generally, however, at the beginning stands alone, but it may be followed by a motion, or a number of motions, which transform the primary motion into the main question, as related to themselves, and which hold the main question in abeyance until they are settled. In that sense they temporarily supersede the principal motion, and in that sense take precedence of it.
This is easily seen in the force of an amendment, or a number of amendments, which may be presented while the main, or primary, question is pending. For action they precede, or come before, and must be decided before the main question can be decided. So the amendment to the amendment must be settled before the amendment can be reached, and the special form of an amendment, called the substitute, must be acted upon before the main question can be adopted or defeated.
These are simple illustrations of how certain motions may take precedence of other motions. But there are other classes of motions that take precedence of any or all the motions just specified, and they vary in rank among themselves.
In each case there is some good reason in the nature of things why the question taking precedence should have
the preference-why it may be presented and considered when other motions are pending, and why it should be considered and decided first.
While a main question, with pending amendments, is before the house, a motion for the reading certain papers might be made. This takes precedence and has the right of way and must first be considered and disposed of, and while it is pending no amendment to or substitute for the main question can be offered because, so to speak, the way is blocked by the incidental motion for the reading of the papers. But there might be an intervening motion of higher rank that could be offered while the motion for the reading of papers still was before the body. Thus one might present a question of privilege relating to the assembly itself which would have to be considered. Then someone might move that this matter be postponed to a day certain, and, before that was settled, a motion might be made to adjourn, and before the Chair announced the result of the vote a member might move to fix a time to which the body shall adjourn, a motion which might indeed be necessary to preserve the existence of the body.
Thus motions may take precedence of each other according to the difference in their rank, for which difference there is a reason in the nature and purpose of the several motions. Thus a little thought will show why the motions to adjourn, and to fix the time to which to adjourn, have such high rank and do not yield in precedence to any other motion.
A general statement of the order of precedence is as follows: Subsidiary motions take precedence of the principal motion; incidental motions take precedence of the principal motion and of subsidiary motions; and privileged questions take precedence of the principal motion, subsidiary motions, and incidental motions.
So, conversely, incidental motions yield to privileged questions; subsidiary motions yield to incidental motions and privileged questions; and the main question yields to
subsidiary motions, incidental motions, and privileged questions.
It is to be remembered, however, that subsidiary motions-for example, motions to amend-may be applied to other motions as well as the primary motion. In such a case the other motion has become a main question, in relation to the subsidiary question though not the main question or principal motion.
Incidental questions take precedence of the questions which give rise to them, and therefore must first be decided. They yield to privileged questions, and cannot be amended, but they may be applied to the various classes of motions.
No subsidiary motion can be applied to an objection to the consideration of a question, or to a motion to suspend the rules.
The motion to lay on the table and the previous question can be applied to an appeal. if the appeal is debatable.
Privileged Questions take precedence of all others, but they have degrees of precedence among themselves. fix the time to which to adjourn has the highest degree of privilege, but an amendment may be applied to it. To adjourn yields only to the former motion. It cannot be amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it. Questions of privilege yield only to the two motions just mentioned. They may have subsidiary motions applied to them.
A call for the orders of the day yields only to the three above mentioned, privileged questions, and a motion to reconsider. The question cannot be amended.
Speaking of subsidiary motions, Robert says, "Any of these motions (except to amend) can be made when one of a lower order is pending, but none can supersede one of a higher order."
The motion to postpone indefinitely is an apparent exception, as it does not yield to the motion to amend. Matthias says, "The motion to postpone indefinitely cannot be amended, nor superseded by a motion to commit,
or to amend the original proposition, but must first be decided."
It must not be supposed, however, that all the motions below a given motion will be before the house at the same time.
The motion to reconsider can be made when any other question is before the body, but it cannot be acted upon until some disposition has been made of the business before the body. It must be called up afterward, and when called up it takes precedence of all motions, except motions to adjourn.
Cushing says, "It is a general rule, with certain exceptions, that subsidiary motions cannot be applied to one another," but that "a subsidiary motion to carry out and improve another may be applied to that other, but a subsidiary motion to dispose of or suppress another is not admissible."
Robert says, "They cannot be applied to one another, except in the following cases: (a) the previous question applies to the motions to postpone, without affecting the principal motion, and can, if specified, be applied to a pending amendment; (b) the motions to postpone to a certain day, and to commit, can be amended; and (c) a motion to amend the minutes can be laid on the table without carrying the minutes with it."
Then there are motions that belong to the same rank, and, if one is pending, another of the same rank cannot supersede it.
Speaker Reed thus classifies subsidiary motions in their order of precedence:
“First Rank—Question of consideration.
"Second Rank-To lay on the table.
"Third Rank—To postpone to a day certain.
"To commit or recommit.
"To postpone indefinitely.
"For the previous question.
"Fourth Rank-To amend."
The question of consideration "takes precedence of all