[Deschler's Precedents, Contents]
[Comparative Rights]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

[Page vii-ix]
Comparative Rights

    On analysis, the rules of parliamentary procedure will be seen as 
an attempt to strike a careful balance between the var-

[[Page viii]]

ious rights which arise whenever a deliberative assembly meets, with 
due regard for every member's opinion, and to arrive at a consensus 
of the general will. At issue are the rights (1) of the majority, (2) 
of the minority, (3) of individual members, and (4) of the entire 
    As between themselves, each member of an assembly enjoys the same 
rights as every other member. Otherwise, aggressive and domineering 
members can monopolize the debating time and prejudice the question 
under consideration. No member has a greater right to the expression of 
ideas than any other member. Subject to the rules governing debate, 
each member may present his views for the consideration of the entire 
body. When there are no rules, or where each member thrusts his ideas 
upon others in disregard of the rights of others, chaos, if not 
anarchy, prevails.
    If the precedents of the House can be said to have an overriding 
function, it is to enable the Members to govern themselves 
democratically and fairly and at the same time execute the will of the 
majority. The precedents of the House are utilized in such a way as to 
expedite business and protect the minority, and at the same time enable 
the assembly to take action in accordance with the views of the 
    Parliamentary law recognizes that the will of the majority, when 
properly and fairly ascertained, must prevail. When one becomes a 
member of an assembly, he tacitly agrees to abide by the decision of 
the majority in return for his right to vote. The basic concept of 
majority rule was advocated by Jefferson in his manual. He said: ``The 
voice of the majority decides; for the lex majoris partis is the law of 
all councils, elections, etc., where not otherwise expressly 
    18. See House Rules and Manual Sec. 508 (1973).
            Although the majority rule applies generally, the House has 
        adopted rules providing for a two-thirds vote on certain 
        propositions, such as on a motion to suspend the rules. Rule 
        XXVII clause 1, House Rules and Manual (1973).
    The historic functions of the minority have always been recognized 
under parliamentary law. It protects the right of the minority to 
examine propositions of the majority, to offer amendments thereto, or 
to attempt to persuade the majority to reject the propositions in their 
    19. 1 Hinds' Precedents at p. iii.
    The minority also has a right to be heard, to vote, and, in some 
cases and subject to the rules, to delay action temporarily. 

[[Page ix]]

In fact, during and shortly after the Civil War, the minority party in 
the House had what amounted to the power to obstruct legislation 
entirely. This was permitted at that time on the theory that on 
great questions the wisdom of the few should be permitted to thwart 
the rashness of the many. However, Speaker Reed, in 1890, nullified 
this power of the minority by the enunciation of the principle that 
the processes of a legislative body may not be used to destroy its 
powers; and since that time the minority has been remitted in the 
House to its historic functions.(20)
    20. 1 Hinds' Precedents at p. iv.
    Although each Member has the right to be heard, the membership has 
the right to restrain any individual from abusing the privileges 
accorded by the rules. It is the function of parliamentary procedure to 
encourage or permit a thorough discussion, and yet still preserve 
harmony within the group and ultimately to take definite action.
    A Member of the House has a right to vote and to otherwise 
participate in legislative proceedings, but in other respects the 
individual Member must yield to the whole House in expressing the 
national will.