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mands the previous question. As many as are in favor of ordering the previous question will say aye; as many as are opposed will say no'" (Digest of the United States House of Representatives). This, however, is a departure from historic and general parliamentary law.
The previous question and motions to limit or close debate are not allowed in the United States Senate. As the previous question suspends the natural right of the assembly to discuss the subject, it should, as for suspension of the rules, require a two-thirds vote, though in the United States House of Representatives, and properly, on account of the large amount of business and the large number of members, each of whom is entitled to the floor, a majority vote is sufficient. This may also be the case in other large bodies, but in smaller societies it should require a two-thirds vote--the vote necessary to suspend any rule. This is common parliamentary law.
"Where a vote taken under the operation of the previous question is reconsidered, the question is then divested of the previous question, and is open to debate and amendment, but "these decisions apply only to cases where the previous question was fully exhausted, by votes taken on all the questions covered by it, before the motion to reconsider was made. In any other case the pendency of the previous question would preclude debate" (Digest of the United States House of Representatives).
6. To Lay on the Table. The word "table" meant primarily "a board." With supports, and presenting a flat top, it became a table in the modern sense, on the surface of which various things for various purposes might be placed. In a parliamentary body a table would be a useful and important piece of furniture, on which various documents could be laid until needed in the immediate work of the house.
In the United States House of Representatives there are two tables in a parliamentary sense, the Speaker's table and the Clerk's table. On the Speaker's table are
placed messages from the President and from the Senate and other important documents of which he must have special charge, while on the Clerk's table, or table of the House, as it also is called, are placed other and more miscellaneous matters. Certain things are taken up by the Speaker, while other things may be called up by the House, but all these things are provided for by the rules adopted from time to time by the House of Representatives.
The table is a depository on which may be placed documents, reports, motions, and other parliamentary matters, and from which may be taken the things thereon placed. Some things go to the table automatically or by special rule, while other things go on the table by vote of the house. This is done by the motion to Lay on the Table. It has been thus defined: "To lay on or upon the table, in legislative and other deliberative bodies, to lay aside by vote indefinitely, as a proposed measure or resolution, with the effect of leaving it subject to being called up or renewed at any subsequent time allowable under the rules." So to table is "To lay on the table, in the parliamentary scnse; lay aside for further consideration or till called up again: as, to table a resolution" (Century Dictionary).
That which is placed on the table remains within reach of the house. Placing on the table is not a settlement of the question, but a temporary disposition of the matter. To place on the table is not a finality, but a form of postponement without fixing a time for future consideration, but the future consideration is always a possibility and is implied in the motion. All the meeting has to do is to reach out its parliamentary hand and take from the table that which it has laid thereon. This is done by a motion to Take from the Table.
When a matter is before the house a member, having properly taken the floor, may say, "I move that [the question, whatever it be] lie on the table," or "I move that it [the question] be laid on the table," or "I move to lay [the question] on the table."
The motion to lay on the table cannot be debated, and cannot have an amendment or any other subsidiary motion applied to it, and so the Chair does not ask the house, "Are you ready for the question?" but immediately puts the question to vote.
If the vote is in the affirmative, the matter is laid on the table and the subject is removed from consideration until the body takes it from the table. If no motion is made to take it up, it continues on the table and is removed from consideration, but it is always possible to take it from the table and renew the consideration. If no motion is ever made to take it up, it is practically, but not actually, a final disposition of the matter, though laying on the table is not a final, but a temporary disposal. The majority that tables a motion can, if it remains the majority, prevent its being taken up, and so effectually suppress the motion as long as it continues to be the majority, but individuals may change their minds and withdraw from that majority and leave it a minority. Then the new majority can recall the matter for consideration.
An affirmative vote to lay on the table cannot be reconsidered, but at another stage in the business the motion may be made to take from the table.
If the motion to lay on the table is decided in the negative, the business proceeds as if the motion has not been made.
It is in order to lay upon the table the questions still before the body, even after the previous question has been ordered and up to the moment of taking the last vote under it. This implies a vote and a decision, though a temporary one.
The motion to lay on the table is simply "to lay on the table," or "that it lie on the table." To move that a matter lie on the table "for the present" is not good form. The motion to lay on the table is for the present, that and nothing more. So it is not necessary to state what is plainly implied in its very nature. To move that a ques
tion lie on the table until a certain time is a misuse of the motion. The proper form would be the motion to postpone to a certain time, which is debatable, while the motion to lay on the table is not. Hence it is not proper to qualify the motion to lay on the table so as to make it equivalent to a motion to postpone and then cut off debate by a mere majority vote. If the intention is to postpone then the motion to postpone should be used which will permit debate. The right form is "to lay on the table" without any qualification.
The motion to take from the table may vary somewhat in its phrasing, but the usual form is simply to say, "I move to take from the table ," naming the particular
matter it is intended to affect.
To take up a question laid upon the table requires a majority vote on a motion that the body "do now proceed to consider the subject," or "to take the question from the table," or "to now consider the question" (specifying it). This motion, like its opposite, is undebatable, and cannot have any subsidiary motion applied to it.
If the motion to lay on the table is decided in the affirmative, the effect, in general, is to remove from before the assembly the principal motion and all other motions subsidiary or incidental connected with it. In other words, it tables everything that adheres to the subject, so that an amendment ordered to lie on the table carries to the table with it the subject which it is proposed to amend. There are a few exceptions, thus: as a question of privilege does not adhere to the subject it interrupts, it does not carry with it to the table the question pending when it was raised; an appeal laid on the table does not carry with it the original subject; a motion to reconsider, when laid on the table, leaves the original question where it was before the motion to reconsider was made; an amendment to the minutes, being laid on the table, does not carry the minutes with it.
As laying on the table is, strictly speaking, merely a temporary disposition of the question and the question
can again be taken up, it is a mistake to apply it to an amendment, and having laid the amendment on the table, to pass to the consideration of the main question, for laying an amendment on the table carries with it the main question and all that adheres to it.
In some bodies there is a faulty method of regarding the laying on the table as a final and adverse action, and in some there appear to be special rules recognizing this method. At best they are only special rules of, and applying to, such a body, but they are in opposition to general parliamentary law, and are contrary to the philosophy of the motion itself as seen in its temporary effect and its inherent intention.
Where there is no special rule of the body there is sometimes found a grossly abusive use, or abuse, of the motion to lay on the table. Thus, in the midst of the consideration of a measure, or on the presentation of a proposition, in the form of a motion, resolution, or in some other form, a member suddenly springs to the floor, and, perhaps without addressing the Chair, or properly securing recognition, cries out in a loud voice: "I move that it lie on the table." This is usually sufficient to disconcert the friends of the measure and to destroy the judicial balance of the house. As W. E. Barton says, "As thus used it is hardly a courteous motion, and in the hands of a restless majority may become tyrannical" (Barton's Rules, p. 55); and this is true even when made in a more orderly man
As the motion to lay on the table cannot be debated or amended, under it the meeting is often rushed to a vote with little or no reflection, and frequently under such circumstances the motion carries, because it is quick and bold, and gives no time for deliberate thought, and so by a sudden impulse the meeting is swept off its feet.
In such an abuse of the motion the intention is to cut off debate and to kill the measure, whereas the fair use of the motion kills no measure, but simply postpones consideration and action by placing the matter on the table