Table (verb)

Table as a verb has two contradictory meanings, one in use in the United States and the other in the remainder of the English-speaking world. In the United States, the motion to table (or "lay on the table") is a proposal to suspend consideration of a pending motion, while in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, to "table" a motion (or "place on the table") is the means to commence discussion on a proposal.

The corresponding motion under the U.S. practice is the motion to take from the table or resume consideration.

US Parliamentary Practice

In United States parliamentary practice, approval of a motion to "table" (or lay on the table) immediately sets aside the pending main motion and all pending subsidiary motions. The motion is not debatable. Beyond these characteristics, the purpose and effect of the motion to table vary according to which parliamentary authority is being used. The motion requires a majority vote except as indicated below.

Under Robert's Rules of Order, the subsidiary motion to table is, properly, used only when it is necessary to suspend consideration of a main motion in order to deal with another matter that has come up unexpectedly and which must be dealt with before the pending motion can be properly addressed. It has, however, become common to misuse the motion to end consideration of the pending main motion without debate, or to mistakenly assume that its adoption prevents further consideration of the main motion at all, or until a specified time.

A main motion that has been laid on the table may be taken up again by adoption of a motion to take from the table. This motion is not debatable, and requires a majority for adoption. A motion may be taken from the table only until the end of the next session (commonly, the next meeting) after the one in which it was laid on the table, if that session occurs within three months after the session in which it was laid on the table; if there is no session within those three months, the motion may only be taken from the table during the current session. If these time limits are not met, the motion dies.

Robert's states that the use of the motion to "table" to kill a motion is improper because a majority vote should not be sufficient to permanently cut off debate on a main motion. Robert's recommends that a member seeking to avoid a direct vote on a main motion while immediately cutting off debate instead make a motion that requires a two-third vote: Either an objection to consideration of the question, which is in order only before debate has begun and requires a two-thirds vote to block further consideration of the main motion, or a motion to postpone indefinitely (in order at any time, majority vote required) followed by an immediate motion for the previous question (two-thirds vote required.) One of the disadvantages of trying to kill a measure by laying it on the table is that, if some opponents of the measure subsequently leave the meeting, a temporary majority favoring the measure can then take it from the table and act on it; or they may do so at a future session held within the next quarterly time interval.

The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, 4th edition, the second most widely-used parliamentary authority in the United States, approves of the motion to table either to temporarily set aside a main motion (in which case it is also called the Motion to Postpone Temporarily, a motion not recognized in Robert's) or to kill the main motion without a direct vote or further debate. The Standard Code states that if the motion to table is used in circumstances suggesting that the purpose is to kill the main motion, a two-thirds vote should be required. This provision addresses the objections stated in Robert's. The Objection to Consideration of a Question and Motion to Postpone Indefinitely are not recognized in the Standard Code.

Under the Standard Code, the motion to take from the table must be made prior to the end of the current session, unlike Robert's Rules, which permits the motion to be made prior to the end of the following session if one is held within a quarterly time interval. The preferred name of the motion to take from the table, under TSC, is the motion to resume consideration.

Legislative Use

In both houses of the U.S. Congress, the motion to table is used to kill a motion without debate or a vote on the merits of the resolution. The rules do not provide for taking the motion from the table, and therefore consideration of the motion may be resumed only by a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules. Robert's explains that this usage of the motion to table is necessary under the peculiar circumstances present in Congress, but is not appropriate in organizations covered by Robert's Rules.

Commencing discussion

In the British and Canadian parliaments, to "table" a measure means to propose it for consideration, as in bringing it to the legislative table.

In his book The Second World War, Volume 3: The Grand Alliance, Winston Churchill relates the confusion that arose between US and UK military leaders during the Second World War:

The enjoyment of a common language was of course a supreme advantage in all British and American discussions. [...] The British Staff prepared a paper which they wished to raise as a matter of urgency, and informed their American colleagues that they wished to "table it." To the American Staff "tabling" a paper meant putting it away in a drawer and forgetting it. A long and even acrimonious argument ensued before both parties realized that they were agreed on the merits and wanted the same thing.

See also

Notes and References

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