Reed's Parliamentary Rules
Chapter XII -- Motions for Reconsideration
Home | Index Previous | Next 


202. Reconsideration.— Even after a measure has passed the ordeal of consideration, of debate and amendment, and of final passage by the assembly, it has not yet, in American assemblies, reached an end. It is subject to a motion to reconsider. In England the motion to reconsider is not known. If any error has been committed, it is rectified by another act. So far is the doctrine that a member knows what he intends the first time carried there, that members who go by mistake into the wrong lobby are counted where they are, and not where they ought to be. If he is with the ayes, he is counted aye, and not allowed to correct his error.

203. Motion for Reconsideration.— A motion to reconsider, if agreed to, reopens the entire question for further action, as if there had been no final decision. If, however, it is proposed to change any action taken prior to the vote reconsidered, that prior action must also be reconsidered. If the assembly, for instance, is not satisfied with an amendment made before the final vote, which has been reconsidered, the vote on the amendment must be reconsidered also. Immediately after the adoption of the motion to reconsider, the question stands precisely as it did before the reconsidered vote was taken, and if no other action is proposed the presiding officer must again put the question to vote.

204. Reconsideration, When Permissible.— A motion to reconsider is applicable to almost all motions. The exceptions are, the motion to adjourn, to lay on the table when decided in the affirmative, suspension of rules, and the motion to reconsider itself.

A motion to reconsider is not in order after action has been had by the assembly in consequence of the decision proposed to be reconsidered. For instance, a motion to commit can not be reconsidered after the committee has taken the papers, the proper course being to discharge the committee.

A motion to lay on the table decided negatively can not be reconsidered if other business has been entered upon, for that would be the equivalent of a renewal of the motion, and should take that form. After the previous question has been partly executed, it can not be reconsidered.

After an appeal from the Chair has been decided and that decision has been acted upon, a motion to reconsider the vote of the assembly on the appeal would not be in order.

Whenever the main question has been decided in the affirmative, the motion to reconsider an amendment previously adopted would not be in order. It would be necessary first to reconsider the vote by which the main question was passed, and if the reconsideration prevailed, then the motion to reconsider the amendment would be in order.

In general it may be said that if the assembly desires to reconsider an act, it must retract in regular order all subsequent action which affects the act to be reconsidered.

A question can be reconsidered but once, but if on reconsideration an amendment has been made making a substantial change, a second reconsideration can be had. A vote on reconsideration can not be reconsidered. A motion to reconsider the vote whereby the yeas and nays were ordered prevails if a majority votes therefor, but the question immediately recurs on the motion for the yeas and nays, and one-fifth voting in the affirmative prevails again.

205. Motion for Reconsideration, When to be Made.— A motion to reconsider must be made on the day on which the action sought to be revised was had, and before any action has been taken by the assembly in consequence of it. It can be entered even while a member has the floor, and can be acted on another day. It can not be withdrawn except on the day it was made, except by consent of the assembly. If withdrawn on the day made, anyone can renew it. It has been laid down by very good authority that motions to reconsider can be made any time during the session, that is, during the whole period for which the assembly sits. But this would lead to such abuse and to so many bad practices, that modern opinion has become settled as stated above. Even with this limitation the practice of reconsideration has led to much waste of time.

206. Practice in House of Representatives.— In the United States House the motion to reconsider is limited by rule to the same or succeeding day. Such also seems the general rule in State legislatures. In order to practically nullify the rule in great measure, a custom has sprung up in the United States House for the promoter of the bill to move a reconsideration, and then at once to move to lay his own motion on the table. If the latter motion is agreed to, under the customs of the House the motion to reconsider is defeated, for nothing is ever taken off the table of the House save by unanimous consent.

207. Motion to Reconsider, Who May Make It.— Only the member who voted with the prevailing party has the right to move for a reconsideration, it being a natural presumption that if no one who was of the prevailing party desires to reconsider his action an attempt to reconsider would be but a waste of time. If the vote was not by yeas and nays, the presiding officer may inquire of the mover if he was of the prevailing party.

208. House of Representatives—Who May Move.— In the House of Representatives, unless the vote is taken by yeas or nays, any member is permitted to move a reconsideration, although the House Rule XVIII, Clause 1, is express upon the subject, and requires the member to be of the majority.

209. Reconsideration, Object of.— The general rule of parliamentary proceedings is that when the assembly has come to a conclusion or decision that result shall be regarded as final. This is necessary for the orderly action of the assembly itself. If what had once been decided could at all times be again opened by each member, there would be no end to confusion. Hence it is that even a decision which only implies the negative of another motion prevents that motion from being put. If, for example, words are inserted by amendment, they can not be afterward stricken out, because being put in implies of itself that the assembly does not want them stricken out. On a question between two legislative bodies, the motion to concur being defeated, that action is equivalent to the motion to non-concur, and no other vote is taken.

So useful is this that the English adhere to it in spite of any disadvantages.

We have, however, adopted the other practice, and while we adhere to the general rule that the decisions of the assembly must remain undisturbed, we allow corrections, but only by the direct action of the motion to reconsider.

Recurring to the examples above stated, if words have been inserted which on reflection are not satisfactory to the assembly, we do not move to strike out; we move to reconsider the vote by which they were inserted, and reach our correction by that road. If after voting not to concur we find that we did not really mean to non-concur, we reconsider and concur or concur with the amendment.

210. Motion to Reconsider—Debate.— A motion to reconsider is debatable wherever the subject on which the reconsideration was moved was itself debatable. Even when the motion to be reconsidered was passed under the previous question, a motion to reconsider reopens debate. If the reconsideration is carried, it can still be debated. Hence under our system of reconsideration a subject may be debated before passage and twice after.

211. Reconsideration—Practical Suggestion.— For ordinary small assemblies the motion to reconsider as it exists under general parliamentary law will work satisfactorily. In larger assemblies, especially of the legislative kind, it is well to allow it to be made on the succeeding day as well as on the day of the vote to be reconsidered. The previous question ought also to be made applicable to it. (See Sec. 127.) In the House of Representatives it can be met with a motion to lay on the table, which enables the House to suppress debate and the reconsideration, both together, if it so desires.