Keep the chair in line using appeal

appeal stampUpdated July 22, 2021

The “motion to appeal” is one of the least-known motions in Robert’s Rules of Order, and the most powerful. All of us are very familiar with the role of the chair of the meeting. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, the chair has the duty of keeping things on track. The chair is responsible for announcing each item of business, recognizing speakers, and for protecting the group from wasting its time.

Chair is subject to whole group

Few people know, however, that the chair is subject to the authority of the whole group. If the chair says that a given subject is not relevant to the discussion, or refuses to recognize someone who is entitled to speak, any two members can appeal. When that happens, the group makes the decision.

Just say “appeal!”

All that is necessary is for a member to say, “I appeal from the ruling of the chair.” If your group operates informally, the single word “Appeal!” will be enough. If another member then says “second,” the chair must turn to the group as a whole to decide. Appeals pertaining to language, decorum, and the order of business cannot be debated, but other types may be debatable.

Process to handle appeal

  1. Chair speaks first and explains the reason for the ruling.
  2. (If appeal can be debated) Members debate the matter, each member speaking once.
  3. Chair speaks again to sum up.
  4. Members vote. The chair may vote on the appeal.
  5. The outcome is decided by majority vote.
  • If the majority vote in favor, the chair’s decision is sustained.
  • If the majority vote against, the chair’s decision is overturned.
  • If there is a tie, then the chair’s decision is sustained.
  • The chair may vote on the appeal.

Sample script for “appeal”

Here is a sample script. If you would like help in developing a script for your unique situation, you can book an appointment here.

Member A: Chair, I rise to a point of order.

Chair: State your point.

Member A: My esteemed colleague has proposed that we donate $100,000 to the University to research ocean conditions in the north, off the City of Dinoview. This motion does not fall within the scope of our organizational charter.

Chair: The point is well taken, and this motion will not be taken up.

Member B: I appeal the Chair’s decision. I believe that this motion DOES fall within our scope.

Member C: Second!

Chair: Very well, since the decision of the chair has been appealed, the group will decide. 

[Members debate. The chair speaks first, each member speaks once, and the chair may speak again at the end of the debate to sum up.]

Now we will vote on this matter. The Chair has ruled that the proposal to donate to the University to research ocean conditions is not within the scope of our organizational charter. All those who believe that this ruling should be sustained, say “aye.”  [Pause] 

All those who believe that the ruling should not be sustained, say “no.”

[Announce result]

EITHER  The “ayes” have it and the Chair’s decision is sustained. We will not consider this motion.

OR  The “noes” have it and the Chair’s decision is not sustained. We will consider this motion.]

Why use the motion to appeal?

Every member of a local governmental body or nonprofit board of directors should know and use this motion. It keeps the power in the hands of the group, and ensures that the chair of the meeting always serves the group’s wishes. It is basic to our democratic process. Read our article, Point of Order and Appeal are the heart of democracy, for more. Download this article, Remedies for abuse of authority by the chair in a meeting, to see the exact process described in Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th edition.

See also these posts about Point of Order and Appeal:

What justifies calling a Point of Order?

Point of Order and Appeal are heart of democracy

Who may raise a point of order at council meetings?

Remedies for abuse of authority by the chair in a meeting

Removing the chair during a meeting

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. Chris on March 24, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Got a question if a member of the public gives a letter to the council and he is not on a specific committee agenda item. Can the chair let him approach the Council and discuss his letter even if his item is not on any agenda item? We discussed his issue 2weeks ago in committee and his item passed and his item was placed in public hearing for our Council meeting.

    • Ann Macfarlane on March 26, 2016 at 11:30 am

      Chris, there is nothing in Robert’s Rules about a situation like this, so the outcome here depends entirely on the rules that your council has adopted. We recommend that councils set up a procedure for public comment and input. If you have no such procedures in place, the chair can decide what to do, subject to appeal by any two of the members. Ultimately it is the decision of the body, the council, whether to consider this letter at the council meeting or not. Thanks for writing!

  2. jim kirkland on April 26, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Along these same lines, two questions: (Assuming the organization has voted to accept RONR, 11th ed.)

    1. Does the Chair have the right to unilaterally table any agenda item before it reaches the floor for debate, and, if he does where do I find that in Robert’s Rules?

    2. Does the Chair have the right to unilaterally (either before or during the meeting) object or remove an item on an agenda, knowing that the agenda is NOT approved prior to agenda beginning?

    • Ann Macfarlane on April 26, 2016 at 9:18 am

      Dear Jim,

      1. No, the chair has no right to unilaterally table any agenda item before it reaches the floor. Once the meeting has started, all such decisions are in the hand of the assembly.
      2. Your second question is a little more complex. Ordinarily it is the chair, together with the clerk or secretary, who prepares the agenda before the meeting begins. The chair has the right to include items that he or she thinks are appropriate for the meeting, and could choose not to include something (as long as the rules do not say otherwise). However, the chair has a duty to be responsive to the will and interests of the members, and should not be arbitrary about this. Once the meeting begins, a member has the right to move to include something on the agenda and the chair cannot gainsay it, but must put it to a vote. And once the meeting begins, the chair does not have the right to object to or remove an item unilaterally.
      Hope this helps! Thanks for writing – Ann

  3. Muyaloka David on October 15, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Can one raise a point of order to the chair, if what he/she(chair) is saying is out of motion.