ArtI.S5.C1.2 Quorums

Article I, Section 5, Clause 1:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

For many years the view prevailed in the House of Representatives that it was necessary for a majority of the members to vote on any proposition submitted to the House in order to satisfy the constitutional requirement for a quorum. It was a common practice for the opposition to break a quorum by refusing to vote. This was changed in 1890, by a ruling made by Speaker Reed and later embodied in Rule XV of the House, that members present in the chamber but not voting would be counted in determining the presence of a quorum. 1 The Supreme Court upheld this rule in United States v. Ballin, 2 saying that the capacity of the House to transact business is created by the mere presence of a majority, and that since the Constitution does not prescribe any method for determining the presence of such majority it is therefore within the competency of the House to prescribe any method which shall be reasonably certain to ascertain the fact.3 The rules of the Senate provide for the ascertainment of a quorum only by a roll call, 4 but in a few cases it has held that if a quorum is present, a proposition can be determined by the vote of a lesser number of members. 5

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives §§ 2895-2905 (1907).
  2.  Jump to essay-2144 U.S. 1 (1892).
  3.  Jump to essay-3144 U.S. at 5-6.
  4.  Jump to essay-4Rule V.
  5.  Jump to essay-54 Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representatives §§ 2910-2915 (1907); 6 Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives §§ 645, 646 (1936).