A “motion to vacate” the chair is a parliamentary procedure in the House of Representatives that allows a member to propose a resolution to remove the Speaker from their position.
This motion is often used as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with the speaker’s performance, or to protest a particular action or decision made by the Speaker.
Since the Speaker is a powerful role, the ability to remove him or her from their position is a significant power held by members of the House.
Origin of “Motion to Vacate”
The motion to vacate is a relatively uncommon procedure, and is typically used only in situations where a member of the House feels that the speaker has acted in a manner that is contrary to the best interests of the House or the American people. But it can be personal as well.
For example, a motion to vacate might be used if the speaker refuses to bring a particular piece of legislation to the floor for a vote.
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The Constitution says nothing about ousting a speaker. In fact, “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker,” is the only mention of the top job in the entire document. What the Constitution does say is that the House makes its own rules.
Most of those rules are based on “Jefferson’s Manual,” which the chamber adopted in 1837 as a guide for parliamentary procedure. “A Speaker may be removed at the will of the House,” the manual states. It was Speaker Joseph Cannon in 1910, however, who first used the motion to vacate as it is known now.
Depending upon the rules of the House, it may take multiple members to bring a motion to vacate to the floor.
Once the motion has been proposed, the House will vote on the resolution, and if a majority of members vote in favor of the resolution, the speaker will be removed from their position.
With a narrow majority and in highly-polarized times, the ability to bring a motion to vacate can be powerful since the minority caucus is likely to support the motion. That makes it harder for the Speaker to get the majority he or she needs to stay in their job.
As a result, the motion to vacate is a highly controversial procedure.
Some members argue that the motion to vacate should be used sparingly, as it has the potential to create instability and disrupt the functioning of the House.
Others argue that the motion is an essential mechanism for ensuring that the speaker remains accountable to the members of the House, and that it should be used more frequently in order to prevent abuses of power by the Speaker.
Examples of “Motion to Vacate” in a sentence:
- Representative Smith filed a motion to vacate against the Speaker after they refused to bring a crucial bill to the floor for a vote.
- The Speaker’s controversial actions sparked widespread support for a motion to vacate, but ultimately the resolution failed to pass.
- Some members argue that the motion to vacate should only be used as a last resort, while others believe it is a necessary tool for holding the Speaker accountable.
Taegan Goddard is the creator of the Political Dictionary.
Goddard spent more than a decade on Wall Street as managing director and chief operating officer of a prominent investment firm in New York City. Previously, he also served as a policy adviser to a U.S. Senator and Governor.
Goddard is also co-author of You Won – Now What?: How Americans Can Make Democracy Work from City Hall to the White House, a political management book hailed by prominent journalists and politicians from both parties.
His essays on politics and public policy have appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country.
Goddard earned degrees from Vassar College and Harvard University.
He lives in New York with his wife and three sons.