Parliamentarian (CongressionalGlossary.com)

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Parliamentarian


The Senate and the House each has an Office of the Parliamentarian to provide expert advice and assistance on questions relating to the meaning and application of that chamber’s legislative rules, precedents, and practices.

House: The House Parliamentarian is a nonpartisan official appointed by the Speaker of the House to render objective assistance on legislative and parliamentary procedure to the House of Representatives. During proceedings on the floor, the Parliamentarian sits to the Speaker’s right on the dais.

The parliamentary law of the House of Representatives derives from the Constitution and rules adopted pursuant to Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution. These rules include not only the standing rules adopted from Congress to Congress but also Jefferson’s Manual, as customarily incorporated by reference in the standing rules. They also include rules enacted as law and special rules adopted as necessary. On this foundation rests a body of precedent established by decisions of presiding officers on actual parliamentary questions or by long custom and tradition.

In resolving questions of order, the Speaker and other presiding officers of the House adhere to the jurisprudential principle of stare decisis, a commitment to stand by earlier decisions. The overarching role of the Office of the Parliamentarian is to strive for consistency in parliamentary analysis by attempting to apply pertinent precedent to each procedural question.

Persons who performed various aspects of the Parliamentarian’s duties held a series of titles throughout congressional history, including “Messenger to the Speaker,” “Clerk to the Speaker,” and “Clerk at the Speaker’s Table.” Beginning in the 70th Congress (1927–1929) the title became “Parliamentarian.”

Former House Parliamentarians Asher Hinds, Clarence Cannon, and Lewis Deschler each compiled parliamentary precedents of the House that remain invaluable records of its proceedings. The Office of the Parliamentarian biennially publishes a House Rules and Manual. For the longer term, the Parliamentarian and its subsidiary Office of Compilation of Precedents continue the perennial compilation of parliamentary precedents for formal publication. The precedents are published as Hinds’ Precedents (1907); Cannon’s Precedents (1936); and Deschler’s, Deschler-Brown, and Deschler-Brown-Johnson Precedents (ongoing). To bridge the span between a digest of decisions and formally published precedents, the Parliamentarian also publishes a condensed compilation of procedures of current application as House Practice.


Senate: The parliamentarian is the Senate’s advisor on the interpretation of its rules and procedures. Staff from the parliamentarian’s office sit on the Senate dais and advise the presiding officer on the conduct of Senate business. The office also refers bills to the appropriate committees on behalf of the Senate’s presiding officer.

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