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Robert's Rules for Appealing a Ruling by the Chair

6 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Robert's Rules for Subsidiary Motions

Even the most highly studied, best prepared, and popular presiding officer with a deep knowledge of Robert's Rules can make mistakes. When one of those mistakes involves a ruling on a matter of parliamentary procedure, any two members can require that the ruling be decided by the membership through the process called Appeal.

Robert's Rules says that disagreeing with the chair is no different from disagreeing with a member in debate, and you're given a way to do it without getting personal. In fact, if you don't appeal from the decision of the chair, Robert says you don't have any right to criticize the ruling! Knowing how to use this incidental motion is important in case the chair doesn't make the correct ruling on your point of order. And the chair needs to know how to use it as well because it's often the best way out of a sticky wicket!

When a presiding officer makes a ruling and a member disagrees, the proper thing to do is to rise and say, "Mr. President, I appeal from the ruling of the chair." If another member seconds the appeal, the procedure is rather simple: The president puts the question to the members, who decide whether to sustain his ruling. But under Robert's Rules, the presiding officer gets to speak first and last in any discussion about the appeal or her decision.

An appeal from the ruling of the chair

  • Can interrupt a speaker who has the floor.

  • Needs to be seconded.

  • Is debatable unless the immediately pending question is not debatable.

  • Can't be amended.

  • Requires a majority vote to overturn the decision of the chair.

  • Can be reconsidered.

Take, for example, a motion to amend. Because the motion to amend, on which the ruling was made (and from which you're appealing), is debatable, you can seek recognition to speak to your appeal. If the members agree with the ruling of the chair, then they vote "Yes" to sustain the decision of the chair. If they want to consider your amendment, then they vote "No" and overrule the chair. If they sustain the chair's ruling, then your amendment is out of order. Otherwise, your amendment is in order, and the chair is expected to entertain discussion on the amendment. The appeal doesn't decide whether the amendment is adopted, only whether it's in order to come before the membership.

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