Prisoner's Motion

Prisoner's Motion

The Prisoner's Motion is an extremely rare procedural move used in the U.S. House of Representatives by the minority party against the Speaker of the House. It has only been used once in the history of the United States Congress.


The Prisoner's Motion is derived from Jefferson's Manual, the primary source of American parliamentary procedure. The House of Representatives formally incorporated Jefferson's Manual into its rules in 1837, stipulating that the manual "should govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the standing rules and order of the House and the joint rules of the Senate and the House of Representatives." Since then, the House has regularly printed an abridged version of the Manual in its publication entitled Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives.

Jefferson's Manual was based on notes Thomas Jefferson took while studying parliamentary procedure at the College of William and Mary. A second edition with added material by Jefferson was printed in 1812. The impetus for Jefferson's inclusion of the Prisoner's Motion, formally known as the Privileged Motion Against the Speaker.

Scholars believe Jefferson received the idea from the Roman Senate, where the practice was known as the "Acta contra triumviri" and was used to protect the popularly elected Senate from the ambitions of the aggressive Triumvirate.


The Prisoner's Motion has only been used once in the history of the House of Representatives against Joseph Gurney Cannon, often considered the most powerful Speaker in the House's history, in 1902 during the Great Panama Canal Debate. [ [ History: History of the Panama Canal ] ]

The Prisoner's Motion is a privileged motion, which requires a supermajority in order to take effect, thus making it very difficult for this motion to pass the House. [ [ privileged motion - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ] [ [ Supermajority Vote ] ]


When the so-called Prisoner's Motion is passed, the Speaker may not vacate the chamber until the House rises from the Committee of the Whole, nor may he or she appoint a Speaker Pro Tempore. [ [ Committee of the Whole ] ] [ [ C-SPAN's Capitol Questions ] ] Additionally, since the Speaker must remain in the Chair, he or she may not participate in the debate. []


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