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, Fourth Edition:


How is the motion to Lay on the Table misused?

Because the motion to Lay on the Table is not debatable, requires only a majority vote, and has high precedence, members are too often tempted to use it to kill the main motion. This is an improper use of the motion to Lay on the Table and an example of railroading (see Robert’s 210, 215–16). If a member opposes a main motion, he should speak and vote against it. To suppress action on a main motion, a member should  move to Postpone Indefinitely (which 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 rather than the proper motion, the motion to Postpone. There is no such thing as the motion “to lay on the table until . . .” (see Robert’s 209, 217). (See “Postpone to a Certain Time (or Definitely),” pages 45-47 [of Notes and Comments].)

The motion to Lay on the Table is one of the parliamentary motions that is used too often, and hardly ever—in fact, never—properly. Its purpose gives it a unique power, but that power provides the temptation for misuse.

So what’s a proper use of the motion to Lay on the Table? The motion would be appropriate for a medical or meeting emergency. Or, let’s suppose that during debate the governor arrives. The motion to Lay on the Table would allow the body to quickly set aside the pending business to allow the governor to address the organization. After the governor leaves, the body can take the issue from the table.

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Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules, Fourth Edition is a user’s guide to the new 716 page edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th Edition) and uses a question-and-answer format to cover the most misused and asked-about provisions, including those that apply to larger membership meetings.  Notes and Comments received the 2013 Phifer Award from the Commission on American Parliamentary Practice (CAPP), an affiliate of the National Communication Association.