Currently in its tenth edition and published under the name Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (and often referred to using the initialism RONR) it is the most widely used parliamentary authority in the United States, according to the National Association of Parliamentarians, a professional association of approximately 4,000 members which provides education and accreditation certifications for parliamentarians.
History and origins
The first edition of the book, whose full title was Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, was published in February 1876 by then U.S. Army Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert (1837–1923) with the short title Robert’s Rules of Order placed on its cover. The procedures prescribed by the book were loosely modeled after those used in the United States House of Representatives, with such adaptations as Robert saw fit for use in ordinary societies. The author’s interest in parliamentary procedure began in 1863 when he was chosen to preside over a church meeting and, although he accepted the task, felt that he did not have the necessary knowledge of proper procedure. In his later work as an active member of several organizations, he discovered that members from different areas of the country had very different views regarding what the proper parliamentary rules were, and these conflicting views hampered the organizations in their work. He eventually became convinced of the need for a new manual on the subject, one which would enable many organizations to adopt the same set of rules.
The book is designed for use in ordinary societies rather than legislative assemblies, and it is the most commonly adopted parliamentary authority among societies in the United States. The book claims to be a “codification of the present-day general parliamentary law (omitting provisions having no application outside legislative bodies).” This statement does not imply any approbation on the part of the courts, and the “general parliamentary law” is related neither to statutory legal requirements nor to common-law precedent derived from court judgments. Being widely accepted, and being based for the most part on long-standing traditions of parliamentary procedure, however, the current edition of the book is a reliable reference. Nevertheless, the provisions of any particular manual are not, as a general matter, legally binding upon an assembly that has not formally adopted it as its parliamentary authority; any such manual can at best be cited as “persuasive.” In addition, a number of changes have been made to recent editions, such as provisions dealing with videoconferences, teleconferences, and email, which now makes these editions more than merely codifications of the “present-day general parliamentary law” as existed at the time Robert was originally writing.
Parliamentary procedure is the body of rules, ethics, and customs governing meetings and other operations of clubs,organizations, legislative bodies, and other deliberative assemblies. It is part of the common law originating primarily in the practices of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, from which it derives its name.
In the United States, parliamentary procedure is also referred to as parliamentary law, parliamentary practice, legislative procedure, or rules of order. In the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other English-speaking countries it is often called chairmanship, chairing, the law of meetings, procedure at meetings, or the conduct of meetings.
At its heart is the rule of the majority with respect for the minority. Its object is to allow deliberation upon questions of interest to the organization and to arrive at the sense or the will of the assembly upon these questions. Self-governing organizations follow parliamentary procedure to debate and reach group decisions—usually by vote—with the least possible friction.
Rules of order consist of rules written by the body itself (often referred to as bylaws), but also usually supplemented by a published parliamentary authority adopted by the body. Typically, national, state, and other full-scale legislative assemblies have extensive internally written rules of order, whereas non-legislative bodies write and adopt a limited set of specific rules as the need arises.
In the English-speaking world, the British House of Commons is the originating source for most rules of order. These rules have evolved into two separate sets: American parliamentary procedure as generally followed in the United States; and Westminster parliamentary procedure, followed in Commonwealth countries (except for Canada, which uses a home-grown version) such as United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and many other Commonwealth countries. Various attempts have been made to codify the US variant, and the most common version in use is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. In Canada, Parliament uses Bourinot’s Rules of Order.
Parliamentary procedure is based on the principles of allowing the majority to make decisions effectively and efficiently (majority rule), while ensuring fairness towards the minority and giving each member or delegate the right to voice an opinion. Voting determines the will of the assembly. While each assembly may create their own set of rules, these sets tend to be more alike than different. A common practice is to adopt a standard reference book on parliamentary procedure and modify it through special rules of order that supersede the adopted authority.
A parliamentary structure conducts business through motions, which cause actions. Members bring business before the assembly by introducing main motions, or dispose of this business through subsidiary motions and incidental motions. Parliamentary procedure also allows for rules in regards to nomination, voting, disciplinary action, appeals, dues, and the drafting of organization charters, constitutions, and bylaws.
Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, first published in 1876 by Colonel Henry Martyn Robert, is currently in its tenth edition, published in 2000, is the most popular and well-known parliamentary authority.
The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, first published in 1950 by Alice Sturgis and referred to as TSC or Sturgis, is currently in its fourth edition, published in 2001. It is used by many medical associations of physicians and dentists, including the American Medical Association House of Delegates and American Association of Orthodontists as well as by the Association of Flight Attendants and American Library Association.
Demeter’s Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure, first published in 1948 by George Demeter and called “the Blue Book,” is the third-most popular parliamentary authority. It is often favored by labor unions.
Rules in a parliamentary authority can be superseded by the group’s constitution, bylaws or by adopted procedural rules (with a few exceptions). In RONR the adopted procedural rules are called special rules of order. Assemblies that do not adopt a parliamentary authority may use an existing parliamentary authority by custom, or may consider themselves governed by the “common parliamentary law”, or “common law of parliamentary procedure”. RONR notes that a society that has adopted bylaws that do not designate a parliamentary authority may adopt one by the same vote required to adopt special rules of order. A mass meeting can adopt a parliamentary authority by a simple majority vote. RONR notes that “in matters on which an organization’s adopted parliamentary authority is silent, provisions found in other works on parliamentary law may be persuasive – that is, they may carry weight in the absence of overriding reasons for following a different course – but they are not binding on the body.”
Some societies write their own parliamentary authority for use specifically for their own assembly.