[Deschler's Precedents, Contents]
[What Constitutes a Precedent]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

[Page x-xi]
What Constitutes a Precedent

    The precedents of the House fall into three main categories: (1) 
the rulings or decisions of the Speaker or Chairman, which are 
generally made in resolving a point of order or parliamentary inquiry; 
(2) the decisions or conclusions, express or implied, which emanate 
from the House itself without objection 

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being made; (3) precedents sub silento--that is, practices or procedures 
of the House which are never specifically ruled on.
    From what has been said it is clear that a ``precedent'' may be 
broadly defined as a ruling, decision, or conclusion of the Speaker or 
Chairman or even a longstanding practice or custom of the House that is 
applied in settling some question or issue concerning the House or its 
committees or Members.(24) The rulings of the Speaker or 
Chairman are the most common examples of the precedents of the House, 
and are applied in the interpretation of the House rules.
    24. See 6 Cannon's Precedents Sec. 58 (indicating that the opinion 
        of one member of a committee, absent approval by the House, 
        would be insufficient to establish a precedent).
    Although the term ``precedent'' is broadly defined, a routine step 
in the legislative process which in no way illuminates the practice or 
procedure of the House is not to be considered a precedent. Thus, the 
mere fact that the House voted routinely for or against a particular 
bill is without precedential value. By the same token, the mere fact 
that a particular Member was appointed to a committee is not a 
precedent, but the method of his appointment may well be regarded as 
    A decision or conclusion by the Speaker or Chairman is a precedent 
in subsequent disputes where the very point is again in controversy. 
Likewise, a ruling or conclusion by him is a precedent only on the 
point or points which he actually decides; a question which merely 
lurks in the Record and was never brought to his attention, is not to 
be considered a precedent.
    In the absence of controlling precedents, one House may look for 
guidance to the precedents of the other, although neither body is in 
any way bound by such precedents.(25)
    25. See 3 Hinds' Precedents Sec. 1724, noting that, in 1860, the 
        Senate looked to the precedents of the House in proceeding 
        against a witness in contempt of a Senate committee.