People are sometimes confused about precedence of motions in Robert’s Rules of Order. In essence it is rather simple. The principle is that each motion has a number or rank. When motions are pending, motions with a higher rank may be made, but motions with a lower rank are out of order (not allowed). The main motion has the lowest rank. It can be made only if there is no other motion pending (being discussed).
Suppose, for example, that we are discussing a motion to approve an Arts Festival next summer. Someone moves to postpone consideration to the next meeting in order to allow staff to provide more information. If another person then moves to amend the motion to hold the festival the year after, that amendment cannot be taken up. “Postpone to a definite time” has the rank of 5 and “amend” has the rank of 3. The amendment will have to wait until we get our hands back on the motion at the next meeting.
There are 13 motions with ranks. “Point of order” and “request for information” do not have ranks, but are dealt with immediately. Contrariwise, the “bring back” motions have no rank and can only be made if there is no other business on the table, no motions under consideration. There are other motions as well, but the ranking motions are the key ones to learn about.
The real skinny about precedence of motions in Robert’s Rules of Order
The truth about this system is that it isn’t difficult, it’s just a little strange. Someone who takes the time to learn about these ranks, and to apply them, will have greater success in dealing with board or council matters. Someone who yields to internal bafflement and avoids the entire subject will have less.
If you use another parliamentary authority, it will likely have the same order of ranks, since the system has been established for a long time as part of common parliamentary law and the system of parliamentary procedure.
Note also that the word is pronounced “pree-SEE-dence,” rather different from our usual pronunciation of “PREH-sih-dence.”
We invite you to download our “Motions Chart” below, a PDF file that gives the key information on this topic in concise form. You can learn more about the most commonly used motions in our book, Mastering Council Meetings.