Robert's Rules: Suspending the Rules

All meetings have rules, but sometimes you want to chuck the rules out the window. You might want to allow a speach or go to the bathroom or take items out of order. Here’s how to accomplish, or not, these objectives.

You are at a convention and someone who is ‘famous’ to your group walks in the room to talk with you. The chair of the convention might ask the floor to suspend the rules.
What does it mean? It means that immediately everything halts and you go to a vote. You do need a second but once there is a second it is immediately voted on. You need 2/3rds of the people there to suspend the rules. Once the rules are suspended you go about the thing you suspended the business for.
You: “Chair, I move we suspend the rules to allow the Honorable Senator to speak.”
You get a 2/3rds vote.
The Honorable Senator speaks for WAY to long (they always do.)
You go back to business.

If everyone in the room is happy with whatever you are suspending the rules about you can also ask for unanimous consent.
You:”Chair, I ask unanimous consent to offer the floor to the Honorable Senator before we continue our regular business.”
Chair: “Any objections?”
If there are any it goes to a 2/3rds vote. If none it just goes into the Honorable Senator gabbing.

You cannot suspend the rules to do anything that is illegal, unparliamentarily, or against the bylaws of the organization. You also can’t suspend the rules to take away the rights of any member of the body absentee or present. Going back to the previous examples no pot smoking breaks, potty breaks are totally acceptable, and depending on the length of your meeting may be required.
No No’s:
“Chair I move to suspend the rules to beat the shit out of the Honorable Senator.”
“Chair I move to suspend the rules to take up motion x without prior notice to the members of the body.” (if your by laws require notice)
“Honorable Chair I move to suspend the rules so we can all take a crack break, I’m freaking out man!”
“Chair, I move to suspend the rules to ignore the dude in the corner, cause he’s a moron!”

Once a motion to suspend the rules is shot down you cannot move to suspend the rules for same reason. You can if there is unanimous consent. (This might happen but it is unlikely, it depends on the reason the first motion was shot down, if it was because the Senator wasn’t ready to speak then you are fine, if it was cause no one wanted to listen to the Senator then you aren’t.) You would have to move to Suspend the Rules by unanimous consent and wait for objections, if you didn’t have any, you are good to go. If someone says “no”, “I object”, or “sit down and shut up” you are out of luck. This is a great spot to call for a Point of Order if someone is trying to do this and you don’t want it to happen. You only need one person to object and they are out of luck. So feel free to stand up and say you object. You’ll save people from listening to more useless blabbing.

You can move to suspend the rules for another reason.
“Chair, I move to suspend the rules for a 10 minute break.”
Totally acceptable.
And, yes, moving to suspend the rules for a break if your meeting is horribly long is acceptable and will be appreciated by smokers and those with small bladders alike. This can also be a good idea if you are in a situation where things are tense and tension needs to be cut. If people are yelling, if there is sobbing or threats. Just call it a potty break and take a minute. If you are in trouble because of people yelling then take them outside and just get away, sometimes this can make a huge difference. If having people yelling is good for your point then just fight it.
Technically there is no debate on a motion to suspend the rules. But once a meeting has degenerated into yelling you can certainly stand up and say, “I feel like we need to keep going, people have limited time and we need to resolve this.” (The limited time is a good button.) Feel free to fight to keep the meeting moving along if that’s what you want.
Technically you can also not interrupt a speaker to suspend the rules. Again once the yelling starts you’d be surprised what you can get away with.
Suspending the Rules isn’t always a good idea even when you are trying to extend a meeting. And it is almost never a good idea when you aren’t trying to extend the meeting. You can suspend the rules to make a unanimous vote and that can move things along quicker, but other than that, suspending the rules means making things slow down.

However, unless you have a good reason for suspending the rules it can get people who do want to leave and be done to turn on you. A short break (10 minutes is usually good, a big group 15, longer bathroom lines) can usually be used once, be judicious with when and how often you use them. Suspending the rules can also blow up on you when you don’t have a really solid idea of what your speaker is going to say or what is going to happen when you suspend the rules. Know what is going to happen. If you don’t it’s like putting a witness you’ve never talked to on the stand and expecting to have them totally agree with you.
It is something that people will usually agree to though if you have a good reason so figure out a good reason and use it with caution. Remember you do need a second, and at least two thirds of the body to agree.
You don’t always need 2/3rds. If you are only trying to suspend standing rules you only need a simple majority.

Rules on suspending rules…. (and yes nearly all of these have exceptions, that’s what makes it fun!)
1. Cannot interrupt the speaker.
2. Requires a second.
3. Is not debatable.
4. Cannot be amended.
5. Requires a two-thirds vote.
6. Takes precedence as an incidental motion.
7. Applies to no other motions.
8. Can have no motion except withdraw applied to it.
9. May be renewed at the same meeting.

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!