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Lay on the Table

Rod G Davidson, Professional Registered Parliamentarian

Parliamentary Procedure: What does it mean and why is it important?

Puzzled by the motion to Lay on the Table? After you complete this online module and take the short quiz to test your understanding and refresh your memory, you will feel more confident about this parliamentary puzzler. Here’s a chance to learn a thing or two about the motion to Lay on the Table, courtesy of the public domain version of Robert's Rules of Order Revised, Fourth Edition.

The motion to Lay on the Table is undebatable and cannot have any subsidiary motion applied to it. It may be applied to any main  motion; to any question of privilege or order of the day, after it is before the assembly for consideration; to an appeal that does not adhere to the main question. No motion that has another motion adhering to it can be laid on the table by itself; if laid on the table it carries with it everything that adheres to it.

When a motion is taken from the table everything is in the same condition, as far as practicable, as when the motion was laid on the table, except that if not taken up until the next session the effect of the previous question is exhausted. If debate has been closed by ordering the previous question, or otherwise, up to the moment of taking the last vote under the order, the questions still before the assembly may be laid on the table.

This motion cannot be applied to anything except a question actually pending, therefore it is not in order to lay on the table a class of questions, as the orders of the day, or unfinished business, or reports of committees, because they are not pending questions, as only one main motion can be pending at a time. To accomplish the desired object, which is evidently to reach a special subject or class of business, the proper course is to suspend the rules by a two-thirds vote and take up the desired question or class of business.

If a motion to lay on the table has been made and lost, or if a question laid on the table has been taken from the table, it shows that the assembly wishes to consider the question now, and therefore a motion made the same day to lay that question on the table is out of order until there has been material progress in business or debate, or unless an unforeseen urgent matter requires immediate attention.

The assembly cannot be required to vote again the same day on laying the question on the table unless there is such a change in the state of affairs as to make it a new question. A vote on laying on the table cannot be reconsidered, because, if lost the motion may be renewed as soon as there has been material progress in debate or business, or even before if anything unforeseen occurs of such an urgent nature as to require immediate attention; and if adopted the question may be taken from the table as soon as the interrupting business has been disposed of and while no question is pending, and business of this class, or new or unfinished business, is in order.

The Form of this motion is:
"I move to lay the question on the table."
"I move that the question be laid on the table."

It cannot be qualified in any way; if it is qualified, thus, "To lay the question on the table until 2 P.M.," the chair should state it properly as a motion to postpone until 2 P.M., which is a debatable question, and is not the motion to Lay on the Table.

The Object of this motion is to enable the assembly, in order to attend to more urgent business, to lay aside the pending question in such a way that its consideration may be resumed at the will of the assembly as easily as if it were a new question, and in preference to new questions competing with it for consideration. It is to the interest of the assembly that this object should be attained instantly by a majority vote, and therefore this motion must either apply to, or take precedence of, every debatable motion whatever its rank.

The motion to Lay on the Table is undebatable, and requires only a majority vote, notwithstanding the fact that if not taken from the table the question is suppressed.

These are dangerous privileges which are given to no other motion whose adoption would result in final action on a main motion. There is a great temptation to make an improper use of them, and lay questions on the table for the purpose of instantly suppressing them by a majority vote, instead of using the previous question, the legitimate motion to bring the assembly to an immediate vote.

The fundamental principles of parliamentary law require a two-thirds vote for every motion that suppresses a main question for the session without free debate. The motion to lay on the table being undebatable, and requiring only a majority vote, and having the highest rank of all subsidiary motions, is in direct conflict with these principles, if used to suppress a question. If habitually used in this way, it should, like the other motions to suppress without debate, require a two-thirds vote. [Note: The current (Tenth) edition of Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, does not permit this usage of Lay on the Table to suppress a question.]

As motions laid on the table are merely temporarily laid aside, the majority should remember that the minority may all stay to the moment of final adjournment and then be in the majority, and take up and pass the resolutions laid on the table. They may also take the question from the table at the next meeting in societies having regular meetings as frequently as quarterly. If not taken from the table at the next meeting, however, the motion dies.

The Effect of the adoption of this motion is to place on the table, that is, in charge of the secretary, the pending question and everything adhering to it; so, if an amendment is pending to a motion to refer a resolution to a committee, and the question is laid on the table, all these questions go together to the table, and when taken from the table they all come up together.

In legislative bodies, and all others that do not have regular sessions as often as quarterly, questions laid on the table remain there for that entire session, unless taken up before the session closes. In deliberative bodies with regular sessions as frequent as quarterly, the sessions usually are very short and questions laid on the table remain there until the close of the next regular session, if not taken up earlier; just as in the same assemblies a question can be postponed to the next session, and the effect of the motion to reconsider, if not called up, does not terminate until the close of the next session.

While a question is on the table no motion on the same subject is in order that would in any way affect the question that is on the table; it is necessary first to take the question from the table and move the new one as a substitute, or to make such other motion as is adapted to the case.

Now, test your understanding of the motion to Lay on the Table.  Answer the questions below and then click the button underneath to see your results. Good luck!

1. The purpose of the motion to Lay on the Table is to __________ .


take up a matter of immediate urgency, putting the pending motion aside


kill a motion by majority vote


postpone a matter until the next meeting


2. Is the motion to Lay on the Table debatable?


Yes, but only for 10 minutes.




Yes, but only its maker is allowed to debate.


3. How long does a motion remain on the table?


Only until the urgent business is disposed of and then it automatically comes off the table to be considered by the assembly.


Until a motion is adopted to take from the table, or until it dies at the end of the next session if the group meets at least as often as quarterly and it is not taken from the table by then.


Until the next meeting when it comes up automatically under Unfinished Business and General Orders.


4. What vote does the motion to Lay on the Table require?


a two thirds vote


a vote of a majority of the members present, whether voting or not


a majority vote


5. A motion to Lay on the Table ___________ .


is not debatable


is debatable


is not debatable but is amendable



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