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temporarily, from which it may be taken at the pleasure of the body.
Instead of voting to lay on the table as a finality, if the desire is to defeat the measure, the only proper and honorable way is to bring the proposition to a vote and squarely vote it down. If it is doubtful whether the house will vote against it, then it is not fair to resort to a surprise motion to lay on the table which some may understand as a merely temporary disposal, when the object of the mover is to kill the measure.
If the house does not want to consider the matter at that time it can place it on the table as unsettled, and it may be considered later. If it is desired to cut off debate it can be done by the previous question, which requires a two-thirds vote, but even with the previous question the proposition has a further opportunity for its existence, for it may be laid on the table or be committed. If the body does not want to consider it, the question of consideration can be raised at the proper time and be carried by a twothirds vote. But it is not fair to actually do all these things and defeat a measure by a mere majority vote under a misuse of the motion to lay on the table.
This abusive method of employing the motion to lay on the table as a gag on the discussion and as a way of finally defeating a proposition is a very direct interference with the rights of the individual members and with the collective rights of the body, by depriving them of the right of debate by a mere majority vote, when the true parliamentary principle requires that discussion on a finality should not be cut off by anything less than a twothirds vote. In other words, it is using the motion to lay on the table as though it were the combined motionsfor the previous question, the motion to indefinitely postpone (without the right to debate and used at an improper time) and the question of consideration, which requires a two-thirds vote and can be used only at a certain timewhereas the motion to lay on the table is not all of them, or two of them, or any one of them.
Each question has its own function, and no one has a right to use the motion to lay on the table as though it were all, or any one of several questions, which it is not, and to accomplish by a mere majority vote that for which the other questions require a two-thirds vote. In other words, to use the motion to lay on the table as a finality, and, at the same time, to cut off debate by a mere majority, is neither fair nor legal, and to use it as though it embraced several other motions, is, to say the least, a gross parliamentary impropriety, which is unjust to the question at issue, to its mover, and to the house itself. It is contrary to good parliamentary law and unfair to those who would treat the motion in a legitimate manner. As frequently misused it is a surprise and a gag, and specially vicious because of the suddenness with which it can be sprung, as though suddenly one sprang out of ambush and gave the innocent passer-by no chance for his life.
It is especially bad when the ejaculator of the motion has failed to rise, address the Chair, and regularly obtain recognition. This should never be tolerated by the Chair or the house, for, where the mover has not properly obtained the floor, or obtained it at all, the Chair is particeps criminis if he entertains the motion at all, and yet sometimes it is improperly done.
A worse abuse of the motion to lay on the table is to lay an amendment on the table, and, regarding that as a finality, to proceed with the main question as though the amendment had no existence, while, as a matter of fact, it had only been removed temporarily, and might be taken up at any time.
All the objections already cited against the misuse of the motion apply to this method, but there is a further principle which is violated, namely, the relation of the amendment to the motion it was proposed to amend. The main question and the amendment are so linked together that, if the main question were laid on the table, the amendment would go with it, and, conversely, if the
amendment is laid on the table, it carries with it the main question to which it is attached, and so neither can be considered if either has been laid on the table.
In other words, the amendment adheres to the main question, and has an existence because it does so adhere. Its roots are in the main question, and are so entwined that when the amendment is placed on the table these roots drag the main question with it, and hold it there, so that the main question cannot be considered until, with the amendment, it is taken from the table.
The principle is that all that adheres to the motion laid on the table goes with it to the table. As Speaker Reed has said, the motion to lay on the table "can be entertained on amendment, but the result is the same as if made generally-the whole subject goes on the table" (Reed's Rules, p. 219). And, again, he says: "This motion is practically a motion to suspend the consideration of a question during the pleasure of the House. It carries with it all questions connected with the special question on which it is moved. If it be moved on the main question, then all amendments go with it; if moved on the amendment, then the main question goes on the table also. This is upon the very solid ground that you cannot go on with an amendment when the main subject is no longer before the House, and cannot go on with the main question when there exist amendments liable to be called up at the pleasure of the House. When a question laid upon the table is again called up it comes up before the assembly precisely as it was prior to the motion to lay it on the table, with all the amendments and motions then pending" (Reed's Rules, p. 83).
It is a plain violation of parliamentary law to use a temporary disposition as a final disposition, but if anybody permits the laying of an amendment on the table to be regarded as a finality, then it is a finality also as to that which adheres to it, and the main question, going to the table with the amendment, is also finally disposed of. This is the logic of the process, but the whole method is
contrary to the principles of sound parliamentary law and of sound reasoning therefrom.
Says one parliamentary writer: "To lay a question on the table, with no intention of taking it up again, and thereby preventing all discussion, is an unwarranted violation of one of the fundamental principles of the common parliamentary law of the land, that all propositions are debatable" (N. B. Paul: Parliamentary Law, p. 94).
The absurdity of going on with the main question when its amendment is on the table will be seen if we suppose final action has been had on the main question and that later the house takes the amendment from the table. Where, then, would be that to which the amendment is related? The house would be in a ridiculous position. It may be said the house would not take the amendment from the table. This, however, is a mere surmise. It could do it, and the majority that laid it on the table might fade away and another majority with a different view might take its place. That this thing has even the shadow of a possibility shows the absurdity of the vicious practice to which objection is made.
But there is a still deeper philosophy. Thus, suppose that before the body there is a proposition to which an amendment is moved. It is plain that the main question cannot be reached and voted upon until the amendment has been finally disposed of. Now, to lay the amendment on the table, as has been seen, is not a final disposition, but a temporary disposal of the amendment, and, therefore, the main question cannot be acted upon as long as its amendment is on the table, for it has not been finally disposed of, and it still exists.
That the faulty process is an error may thus appear to anyone who will take a few self-evident points and reason from them, and a study of the best parliamentary authorities will confirm the conclusion.
Thus Jefferson, in his Manual of Parliamentary Practice, gives the true intent of the motion in question. He
says: "When the House has something else which claims its present attention, but would be willing to reserve in their power to take up a proposition whenever it shall suit them, they order it to lie on their table. It may then be called for at any time."
That a particular deliberative body tolerates, or possibly by rule recognizes, the faulty methods herein described, does not make these erroneous usages good parliamentary law. The violation of sound parliamentary practice is just the same no matter who are the erring parties. Various bodies have had mistaken methods, but, when convinced, have improved them. Bodies who have improper rules and individuals who have wrong parliamentary usages should correct them as speedily as possible. The fact that they have had them does not make them right. Where these abuses exist something should be done to remove them. Often they exist because attention has not been called to the error, and people perpetrate it innocently.
Some things can, and should, be done to check the misuse of the motion to lay on the table. Where it is a quickly sprung motion, without the mover securing and being entitled to recognition in the proper manner, the Chair should ignore both the motion and the mover, or members should vigorously object. Where the effort is to cut out the maker of a legitimate motion, and to prevent discussion, by the party who has ejaculated the motion to lay on the table, without properly securing the right to the floor, the introducer of the proposition should insist upon his own rights.
General Robert says: "The person who introduces a resolution is sometimes cut off from speaking by the motion to lay the question on the table being made as soon as the Chair states the question, or even before. In such cases the introducer of the resolution should always claim the floor, to which he is entitled, and make his speech. Persons are commonly in such a hurry to make this motion that they neglect to address the Chair and obtain