How Is the Motion to Lay on the Table Misused?

For today’s blog on one of the most misused parliamentary motions (“to Table”), here’s a Q&A from Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules of Order, Fifth Edition:


Because the motion to Lay on the Table is not debatable, requires only a majority vote, and has high precedence, members can be tempted to use it to kill the main motion. This is an improper use of the motion to Lay on the Table. “In ordinary assemblies, the motion to Lay on the Table is not in order if the evident intent is to kill or avoid dealing with a measure” (17:1-2). Members opposing a main motion should simply speak and vote against it. To suppress action on a main motion, a member could move to Postpone Indefinitely which, unlike Lay on the Table, is debatable.

Another misuse of the motion to Lay on the Table occurs when members confuse it with the motion to Postpone to a Certain Time. Often, a member who wishes to postpone a main motion until later in the same meeting or to the following meeting uses the motion to Lay on the Table “until . . . ” rather than the proper motion to Postpone. There is no such thing as the motion “to lay on the table until . . .” (17:1; 17:1). (See “Postpone to a Certain Time (or Definitely),” page 57[of Notes and Comments, Fifth Edition].) The motion to Lay on the Table is one of the parliamentary motions that is hardly ever used properly. It purpose gives it a unique power, but that power provides temptation for misuse.

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Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fifth Edition is a user’s guide to Robert’s Rules that uses questions-and-answers to cover the most misused and asked-about provisions, including those that apply to larger membership meetings. Notes and Comments has received the Phifer Award from the National Communication Association.

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