Robert's Rules and the Motion to Suspend the Rules

The motion to Suspend the Rules is often used in conjunction with the motion to do whatever you’re trying to do that’s against your rules.

Suppose you want to have a professional parliamentarian preside at one of your meetings at which a divisive issue, like whether to fire your executive director, is on the agenda. Your rules, however, require the president to preside at all meetings.

But the president has strong feelings about the issue and just can’t do the job impartially. You can’t have somebody else preside without breaking your rules. What can you do?

If you can get two-thirds of the members present and voting to approve a suspension of the rules, you can have the parliamentarian handle the meeting. If the motion receives a second and can muster a two-thirds vote, the rules are suspended, and your professional parliamentarian can preside over the meeting.

Sometimes the motion to suspend isn’t combined with the motion it affects because it’s not so clear that the original motion will pass, even if the suspension of the rules to consider it is authorized. This situation is illustrated by a common application of suspending the rules when an agenda item is taken out of its regular place on your agenda.

Know when you can’t suspend the rules

Unless you provide a rule to allow you to make exceptions, you probably don’t want to have any rules at all. But some rules cannot be suspended:

  • Constitution and bylaws: Your bylaws are a contract between members, and they can’t be suspended, no matter how great a vote to suspend them may be. Nor can they be suspended because the rule is just too inconvenient. The same goes for any procedural rules written into the laws governing the organization (such as state corporation laws).

  • Procedural rules prescribed by statute: If the law of the land says, with respect to some procedure, that the procedure is required, that the procedure is prohibited, or that it must be done some particular way, you can’t suspend those rules —unless, that is, the law itself allows you to do so.

  • Fundamental principles of parliamentary law: Such principles can’t be suspended, even if the membership unanimously agrees to a suspension. Fundamental principles include those that

    • Allow only one question to be considered at a time

    • Limit the right to vote to members present at the time the voting occurs in a legal meeting

  • Rules protecting rights of absentees or individual members: These rules include

    • Quorum requirements

    • Requirements for previous notice

    • Rules requiring a secret ballot vote

    • The right of any particular member to exercise full rights to participate in a meeting (that is, attending, voting, speaking, making motions, giving notice, and so on), except after proper disciplinary proceedings (or under provisions of properly adopted motions to limit debate, close the polls, and so on)

  • Rules applicable outside meetings: Policies and procedures not having to do with meeting procedure during a meeting aren’t suspendable. They can be changed by rescinding them or amending them, but Suspend the Rules is all about meeting procedure, not how the organization operates day-to-day.

Six key characteristics of the motion to Suspend the Rules

A motion to Suspend the Rules

  • Can’t interrupt a speaker who has the floor

  • Needs to be seconded

  • Isn’t debatable

  • Can’t be amended

  • Requires a two-thirds vote (But if you’re suspending a rule protecting a minority less than one-third, the rule can’t be suspended if there is a negative vote as great as the number protected by the rule. A standing rule can be suspended by majority vote.)

  • Can’t be reconsidered

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