Can Individual United Methodists Petition 2016 General Conference? Part 2

(Although dated 2014-03-06, this draft was finally published on 2014-03-13.)

This post is a continuation of the previous post and contains a sketch of an argument for why Petition 20318 via Calendar Item 477 should be applied to the 2012 Discipline. This contains a sketch of an argument because — to put it bluntly — I’m not interested in spending more time on this unless others are interested in it. At the same time, I want to be clear that this is not a frivolous argument.

The basic idea is this: under parliamentary law, it is up to the General Conference to enforce its own rules of order. If a presiding officer does not enforce the rules of order, any member can make a “point of order.” The record is clear: this did not happen. Any subsequent claims that the action in question violated the General Conference’s Rules of Order are at best irrelevant, at worst a usurpation of the legal authority of the General Conference.

If the secondary amendment to Calendar Item 477 was illegal on some other basis under the Discipline — an argument I will not consider here — it is correctly the Judicial Council who would make this determination (for example, ¶ 56.1).

(My next and final post in this series won’t be as technical but will still require some technical detail.)

My references here are Plan of Organization and Rules of Order for the 2012 General Conference (Daily Christian Advocate, Thursday, April 26, 2012, Vol 4, No. 2, pp. 1877–1921), Proceedings of the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church (Daily Christian Advocate, May 5, 2012, Vol. 4, No. 11, pp. 2709–2805), and Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition (2011: Da Capo Press). “RONR” will refer to this edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. (I’ve already used the preferred language “primary amendment” and “secondary amendment.” See RONR p. 135 ll. 18-22.)

Here are (in my opinion) the most relevant rules for this sketch of an argument:

Rule 3. Authority of the Presiding Officer

(1) The presiding officer (plenary, administrative committees, legislative committees, and sub-committees) shall decide and rule on points of order. A delegate may appeal the ruling to the body without debate, except that the presiding officer and the appellant, in the order here named, shall each have three minutes for a statement in support of their respective positions. A tie vote in the case of appeal shall sustain the presiding officer (See Rule 29.4). Any delegate who raises a point of order shall cite the rule believed to have been violated.

Rule 8. Interrupting the Speaker

No delegate who has the floor may be interrupted except for a point of order, a parliamentary inquiry, a point of information, to challenge a misrepresentation, or to call attention that the time has arrived for an order of the day.

Rule 10. Point of Order

A delegate wishing to raise a point of order shall address the presiding officer and say, “I rise to a point of order.” The presiding officer shall interrupt the proceeding. If a delegate is speaking, that one shall immediately yield the floor. The presiding officer shall then direct the delegate raising the point of order to state the point as briefly and concisely as possible, citing the rule invoked in the point of order. The delegate shall not presume to decide the question or argue the point. A point of order is decided by the presiding officer without debate unless in doubtful cases the presiding officer submits the question to the body for advice or decision. When the presiding officer rules on a point, debate is closed, but the decision may be appealed (See Rule 3).

Rule 20. Alterations of Motions

When a motion is made and seconded, a resolution is introduced and seconded, or a committee report is read or published in the Daily Christian Advocate, it shall be deemed to be in the possession of the Conference and may not be altered except by action of the Conference (See Rule 37).

Rule 41. Robert’s Rules of Order, Supplemental Authority

In any parliamentary situation not covered by the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order, the General Conference shall be governed in its action by the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order.

Next, from RONR:

GROUNDS FOR A POINT OF ORDER.  It is the right of every member who notices a breach of the rules to insist on their enforcement. If the chair notices a breach, he corrects the matter immediately; but if he fails to do so—through oversight or otherwise—any member can make the appropriate Point of Order. (RONR, page 249 l. 32 through page 250 l. 2.)

RONR details a timeliness requirement for raising a point of order:

TIMELINESS REQUIREMENT FOR A POINT OF ORDER.  If a question of order is to be raised, it must be raised promptly at the time the breach occurs. For example, if the chair is stating the question on a motion that has not been seconded, or on a motion that is out of order in the existing parliamentary situation, the time to raise these points of order is when the chair states the motion. After debate on such a motion has begun—no matter how clearly out of order the motion may be—a point of order is too late. (RONR, page 250 ll. 17–25)

There is an apparent contradiction between Rule 20 and RONR p. 37ff. The problem in a nutshell is that, based on Rule 20 and the passage cited above from page 250, once a motion is seconded, no one could raise a point of order! I’m going to assume that “too late” for a point of order in General Conference is once the vote on the motion is closed and announced. This is consistent with the actual practice of General Conference presiding bishops recognizing “points of order” during debate. Two examples: one made by James R. Allen (pages 2772–2773) and another one made by R. Zachary Allen (pages 2793–2794). It’s also consistent with the idea that once the assembly has voted on a motion, it is too late to claim that the motion is out of order. The time to make such an objection is before voting.

RONR, page 250 ll. 9–11: “If a member is uncertain as to whether there is a breach on which a point of order can be made, he can make a parliamentary inquiry of the chair (see pp. 293–94).” Nothing would have prevented a General Conference delegate from making any needed parliamentary inquiry.

RONR, page 251 ll. 3–23 describe “the only exceptions” to the timeliness requirement. In my opinion, none of these exceptions apply to the relevant secondary amendment. (I would be willing to write more about this in the appropriate forum.)

I have to comment on some remarks that Mr. Lomperis attributes to the Rev. Geist:

The language of the petition does not appear in The Book of Discipline 2012 because The Book of Discipline 2012 was not amended.  The language adopted limiting who could submit petitions to the General Conference only amended a report, not The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.  Consequently any United Methodist, lay or clergy, may submit petitions to the 2016 General Conference. 

It’s difficult to know whether the following is fair to the above remarks, since I’m lacking the complete context. Respectfully, to claim that the secondary amendment “wasn’t amending the Book of Discipline” borders on being a distinction without a difference.

If petition 20318 had passed as a main motion, we couldn’t reasonably say that “it doesn’t amend the Book of Discipline.” It clearly does. If we take this same petition language and add it to the end of another resolution via amendment (see RONR, page 141, ll. 10–25), that same petition language still “amends the Book of Discipline.” The fact that this petition language was “added by amendment to another resolution” has no bearing on whether the petition language itself “amends the Book of Discipline.”

Now I’m much more sympathetic to the claim that the secondary amendment was not germane to the primary amendment. RONR is also clear on the proper way of questioning the germaneness of an amendment: through a point of order. See RONR page 137, l. 32 through page 138, l. 7; also page 254 l. 8 through page 255 l. 3. We can even find the same example in the public domain Robert’s Rules of Order Revised, Fourth Edition (1915) under “Questions of Order and Appeal.

I know of no General Conference Rule of Order that prohibits disciplinary amendments to non-disciplinary main motions. (If there is such a rule, a “point of order” would be the way to enforce it anyway.) No matter how many other General Conference Rules of Order might have been violated, none of the 405 delegates who voted against the secondary amendment rose to make a point of  order before voting. I’d be reluctant to conclude that my judgement is better than the judgement of all of them.

To repeat: in the transcript (pages 2760–2764), no one makes a point of order. On page 2763 Byrd Bonner makes a “request for information” (RONR, pages 294–95) that touches on issues that could have been the basis for a point of order. The vote on the secondary amendment had already closed on page 2762.

We can debate whether a delegate should have made a point of order. The record is clear: no one did. I know of no legal basis for replacing the General Conference’s judgement with someone else’s judgement. Doing so undermines the rule of law.

In the next (and final) post of this series, I discuss one way to get this in front of the Judicial Council.

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