How To Break the Rules

Let’s be honest. Sometimes parliamentary procedure rules just don’t suit the needs of a specific moment. Maybe they’re too cumbersome. Or perhaps they’re actually hindering business instead of furthering it. If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation and wondered if you have any wiggle room, take heart. Today’s post is for you.

If you want to break the rules, make the motion called “Suspend the Rules.” Here’s how it works.

Step 1: A member makes a motion to suspend a specific rule for a specific purpose.

The fact that this motion is called “Suspend the Rules” is a bit of a misnomer because it implies that a member can ask to throw all the rules out the window indefinitely! And yes, I get the fact that leaving all the parliamentary procedure rules behind might seem completely awesome. But unfortunately, that isn’t what this motion offers.

What this motion does offer is the option of suspending a specific rule for a specific reason.

Here’s an example: If you’re in a group that has adopted a twenty-minute limit for debate on any main motion, and the group reaches a particularly weighty item on the agenda that will likely require more lengthy discussion, a member might want to move to suspend the twenty-minute limit for the discussion of that motion. That member should say, “I move to suspend the rule limiting debate to twenty minutes during the discussion of this motion.”

Step 2: The Chair waits for a person to second the motion and then takes a vote on the motion to suspend a specific rule. There is no debate.

The motion to suspend the rules is not debatable, and it requires two-thirds of the votes cast for adoption. So, as soon as the motion is seconded, the Chair moves to a vote on whether to suspend the rules.

In the example above, the Chair would ask all those in favor of suspending the rule limiting debate to twenty minutes to raise their hand (or stand), and all those opposed to do the same. If the motion is adopted, there would be no limits on debate for the pending motion.

Step 3: Once the reason for suspending the rules is no longer relevant, the rule that was suspended applies as usual. 

The point here is that it’s a short-term thing. The rule modification is not permanent.

Also, no vote is required to resume business according to the traditional rules. It happens automatically.

And, if there happened to be another instance within the same meeting where a member again thinks it helpful to dispense with a particular rule for a particular reason—the whole process would need to occur all over again.

Wrapping Up

The great takeaway here is that yes—you have some latitude within the rules to adjust for unusual circumstances. The point of parliamentary procedure is to provide a super-helpful framework, even down to rules for specific common situations. But thankfully, there’s also a process for modifying those rules when flexibility is needed.