“A Quorum To Do Business”

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.405 The Supreme Court upheld this rule in United States v. Ballin,406 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.”407 The rules of the Senate provide for the ascertainment of a quorum only by a roll call,408 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.409

Footnotes

405
HINDS ’ PRECEDENTS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES §§ 2895–2905 (1907). [Back to text]
406
144 U.S. 1 (1892). [Back to text]
407
144 U.S. at 5–6. [Back to text]
408
Rule V. [Back to text]
409
4 HINDS ’ PRECEDENTS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES §§ 2910–2915 (1907); 6 CANNONS PRECEDENTS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES §§ 645, 646 (1936). [Back to text]