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CHARTERS, CONSTITUTIONS, BY-LAWS, AND RULES
THERE are various documents or codes governing deliberative bodies, containing formulations of rights and restrictions. Thus there is what is called a Charter, from the Latin chartula, "a little paper" or "writing," and in modern times applied to government grants of powers or privileges, for example, to a corporation or an association. A charter comes from a higher authority, creates and gives a legal standing to the organization, and empowers and limits the body thus recognized. The body owing its existence to a legal charter is under obligation to act in conformity with the terms of the instrument. The body thus chartered cannot modify its charter, but it may petition the superior authority to make a change therein or to give it a new charter.
A Constitution is that which constitutes or establishes. Specifically it has been defined as “A system of fundamental principles, maxims, laws, or rules embodied in written documents or established by prescriptive usage, for the government of a nation, state, society, corporation, or association" (Century Dictionary). A constitution does not come precisely as does the ordinary charter, but may be formulated by the component parts of the body which it is to control. It is sometimes spoken of as the organic law because it is the primary or basal law that organizes the body. In the same sense a charter is organic law.
A constitution is not only an organizing and empowering document, but also a limiting instrument with restrictions on the body it constitutes. It becomes the fundamental law by which the body is restrained, which must be obeyed by the body in its actions and by each indi
vidual in the body. To it the body is to look for permission and mandate, and its limitations are not to be transgressed.
Because of its nature, a constitution should not be lumbered up with minor matters, but should be a brief document, simple in its statements, and containing essential principles. It should specify the fundamental objects of the organization, indicate its composition, define its powers and limitations, ordain the time and place for its meetings, and restrict its expressions to things fundamentally necessary.
Because it is fundamental it should be unchangeable on a momentary impulse, and should be exceedingly difficult to change at any time. Usually, constitutions contain a provision for change or amendment, which specifies that there must be formal notice of the proposition to amend, and that a considerable time must intervene before action can be taken on the proposed modification. That means due notification and time for reflection. While not impossible to change, constitutions must have some degree of permanence.
The By-Laws are detailed regulations for working out the objects of the body and the purposes of the constitution.
The common definition regards the title as a compound of two words, "by" and "law," meaning by, or according to the law; that is to say, the fundamental law, which in this instance would be the constitution. Modern scholars, however, tell us that it is the Danish by, meaning a town, and that it primarily means a town law, or local law. But admitting this, it is plain that the town law had to be in harmony with the higher law, and so by-laws must be in accordance with the fundamental or organic law, that is with the constitution, and with the charter, if there be one. In that sense they are by, or according to, the law.
The by-laws should contain important regulations which could not be changed on the moment and which should be put out of the power of any one meeting to change. Not
being quite as important as the fundamental law, they may be more easily changed than the constitution, but the by-laws must contain a specific provision for their amendment at a future time after due notice has been given. This should be at a regular meeting and should require a two-thirds vote, and at least the same should be required to amend the constitution. A provision of the constitution cannot be suspended at any time or by any vote. Rules of Order are the special parliamentary rules adopted to meet the peculiar needs of the body, and may for that body modify the application of general parliamentary practice to some extent, but there should be no variation from common parliamentary law unless the nature of the body makes it absolutely necessary. Deliberative bodies frequently adopt a few special rules, and in addition recognize some parliamentary textbook as a guide.
A body may also have its Standing Rules, which are resolutions of a more or less permanent nature, adopted from time to time, and which are binding until they are modified or rescinded.
In addition, there may be Special Orders adopted to accomplish some particular thing within the legal rights of the assembly. Robert holds that if the special order is to fix an order "in preference to the orders of the day and established order of business," then the "motion requires a two-thirds vote for its adoption, because it is really a suspension of the rules" (Rules, p. 187).
In a representative body, which is not continuous, but which terminates its existence at a given time, and will be followed by another body with newly elected representatives, the one house, though similar, cannot make rules or orders to govern the succeeding house or to interfere with its constitutional rights, but the succeeding body may profit by, and follow, precedents established by the former assembly. On the other hand, if it is a continuous body, the rules continue until they are legally changed by specific action.
ORDER OF BUSINESS
THERE must be a definitely understood progression in the items of business that all may know what to expect at a particular time, and that the items should have a fair chance among themselves, and not be overlooked. This arrangement, which is called the Order of Business, is fixed by the body itself to suit the character of the assembly.
Some points belong to general parliamentary practice, and, so to speak, would be naturally respected even if there was no formally adopted order of business. Thus, the members being assembled, the first, and natural, thing would be for the presiding officer, at the proper time for beginning, to take the chair and call upon the house to be in order.
The next thing, in ordinary bodies particularly, is to have the roll called, to see who and how many were present.
Attention having been secured, and those present having been noted, the next thing, in every meeting after the first, would be to ascertain whether an accurate record of the proceedings of the previous meeting has been made, for it may not only be a record, but also a basis for the business of the day. So the natural thing after calling the house to order and the calling of the roll is the reading and approval of the minutes, or journal, of the previous meeting.
Having approved, or adopted the minutes, the natural course, before taking up anything else, would be the completion of business which had been considered previously, but upon which a conclusion had not been reached. So we would have the consideration of unfinished business.
The incomplete business having been completed, or at least having been considered and disposed of in some way, the next thing in natural order would be the presentation of new business, under which head new propositions of various kinds and forms could be presented, considered, and acted upon.
Finally, the business having been attended to, or the time having expired, or the strength or patience of the body having been exhausted, the natural and necessary thing would be to close the present meeting, and, so, the last item would be the adjournment of the assembly.
Grouping these points, as forming the primary or natural order of business, under general parliamentary practice, we would have the following
ORDER OF BUSINESS
1. Calling the House to Order.
2. Calling the Roll.
3. Reading and Approval of the Journal.
4. Unfinished Business.
5. New Business.
That, so to speak, is the germ-order of business, and under such a simple order it is possible to include practically everything that is necessary, but each body may make detailed insertions of various subordinate or other items to meet its own needs or convenience.
Thus, a religious gathering would have devotional services immediately after the call to order. Another might have a particular place for the presentation of communications, or of matters for temporary disposition. So there might be a special place for the reception of reports, and this might be subdivided for different kinds of reports; and, again, there might be a place specially indicated for the consideration of matters of peculiar moment as ordered by the assembly itself.
Where the business is very great and greatly varied it is found useful to keep one or more Calendars in which the