Parliamentary Procedure: Accomplishing the Will of the Majority While Protecting the Rights of the Minority in an Efficient and Respectful Manner.

Author:Moriarty, Mark
Position:City, County and Local Government Law

The time was half past midnight. The meeting droned into its eleventh hour. The mayor looked down at the agenda, "Next. Well, actually, that is it. We are at the end of the agenda." "Thank God," proclaimed a colleague.

The mayor continued, "So, therefore, we are adjourned," and banged the gavel.

"Good meeting, guys," said a recently elected commissioner. Nobody listened. People had tuned out hours ago. She repeated herself, "Good meeting, guys." This time a little louder. Again, no response. People gathered their things and headed for the exits.

Maybe she was trying to convince herself that it was a good meeting. Maybe she just didn't know better.

Parliamentary procedure, or parliamentary law, refers to the rules for a meeting--that is, the agreed upon rules a group of people use when they come together, present and discuss choices, and make decisions.

This article examines parliamentary law and how implementing certain parliamentary procedures can streamline meetings, make them more efficient, productive, and make good use of everyone's time--and, perhaps, avoid the kind of marathon torture that only a newcomer could call a "good meeting."


Courts have recognized the use and authority of parliamentary procedures for governmental bodies and that, in certain circumstances, those procedures can be binding. Here is a sampling of judicial comments. In Cabrol v. Town of Youngsville, 106 F.3d 101 (5th Cir. 1997), the court stated:

Robert's Rules of Order is a leading source of parliamentary law in the United States, first published in this country in 1876. Cleary v. News Corp., 30 F.3d 1255, 1257 (9th Cir. 1994). Unless adopted by some type of legislative enactment, we view Robert's Rules of Order as purely parliamentary procedure governing the operation of the town council upon convening, see Mapp v. Lawaetz, 882 F.2d 49, 52 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1989), which we examine only in the context of the council's conduct's compliance with statutory and constitutional requirements, see Brown v. Hansen, 973 F.2d 1118, 1122 (3d Cir. 1992); George v. Local Union No. 639, 825 F. Supp. 328, 333 (D.D.C. 1993).

In Battaglia Fruit Co. v. City of Maitland, 530 So. 2d 940 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988), the court wrote:

[T]he circuit court held that petitioners' due process rights had been violated by the county commissioners' failure to abide by their initial tie vote on October 21, 1985, which under proper parliamentary procedure would have defeated the motion to approve Battaglia's application. Under the Orange County Code, an unsuccessful applicant must wait nine months before applying for another hearing concerning the same property; the circuit court reasoned that the 3-2 vote on October 28, 1985, violated this provision.

The Fifth DCA held:

[T]he Orange County Code does not contain a provision that a tie vote constitutes a final decision in a zoning matter. The circuit court stated that in the absence of a formal rule, a deliberative body must follow generally accepted rules of parliamentary procedure. We do not agree. Parliamentary rules not adopted as part of a governmental body's organic law may be waived or disregarded, and courts will not enforce their observance. See 59 Am. Jur. 2d Parliamentary Law [section]4 (1987). The failure of the county commissioners to observe a general rule of parliamentary procedure did not violate any party's procedural due process rights.

However, in Brodeur v...

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