Order Code RS22592
Updated November 26, 2008
Parliamentary Rights of the Delegates and
Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst on the Congress and Legislative Process
Government and Finance Division
As officers who represent territories and properties possessed or administered by
the United States but not admitted to statehood, the five House Delegates and the
Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico are not Members of Congress, and do not
enjoy all the same parliamentary rights as Members. They may vote and otherwise act
similarly to Members in legislative committee; may not vote in the House, but may
participate in debate and make most motions there; and, under a rule adopted in the 110th
Congress, may vote in Committee of the Whole subject to an immediate revote in the
House if their votes are decisive. This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.
The offices of the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico and the Delegates to the
House of Representatives from American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the
U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are created
by statute, not by the Constitution.1 Because they represent territories and associated
jurisdictions, not states, they are not Members of Congress and do not possess the same
parliamentary rights afforded Members. This report examines the parliamentary rights
of the Delegates and the Resident Commissioner in legislative committee, in the House,
and in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union.
In Legislative Committee
Under Clause 3(a) of Rule III, Delegates and the Resident Commissioner are elected
to serve on standing committees in the same manner as Representatives and have the same
parliamentary powers and privileges as Representatives there — the right to question
witnesses, to debate, offer amendments, vote, offer motions, raise points of order, include
additional views in committee reports, accrue seniority, and chair committees and
subcommittees. They may also be appointed by the Speaker to conference committees
as well as to select and joint committees.
An elected Delegate from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will begin
service in the 111th Congress (2009-2010). See P.L. 110-229, 122 Stat 868.
In the House
The Delegates and the Resident Commissioner may not vote in or preside over the
House.2 While they take an oath to uphold the Constitution, they are not included on the
Clerk’s roll of Members-elect, and may not vote for Speaker. They may not file or sign
discharge petitions. They may however, sponsor and cosponsor legislation, participate
in debate, including managing time, and offer any motion which a Representative may
make, except the motion to reconsider.3 A Delegate may raise points of order and
questions of personal privilege, call a Member to order, appeal rulings of the chair, file
reports for committees, object to the consideration of a bill, and move impeachment
In Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union
Under changes made to Rule III and Rule XVIII on January 24, 2007,4 when the
House is sitting in Committee of the Whole, the Delegates and Resident Commissioner
have the same right to vote as Representatives, subject to immediate reconsideration in
the House when their recorded votes “have been decisive” in the Committee. This change
also authorized the Speaker to appoint a Delegate or the Resident Commissioner to serve
as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole.
This rule is identical in effect to one in force in the 103rd Congress (1993-1994),
which permitted the Delegates and the Resident Commissioner to vote in, and to preside
over, the Committee of the Whole. These provisions were stricken from the rules as
adopted in the 104th Congress (1995-1996) and remained out of effect until readopted in
the 110th Congress.5 At the time of the 1993 rule change, then-Minority Leader Robert
H. Michel and 12 other Representatives filed suit against the Clerk of the House and the
territorial delegates, seeking a declaration that the rule was unconstitutional. The
constitutionality of the rule was ultimately upheld on appeal based on its inclusion of the
mechanism for automatic reconsideration of votes in the House.6
On April 19, 2007, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1905, legislation that would add
to the House a full voting representative from the District of Columbia, by a vote of 244 to 177,
1 present. For more information on this and similar proposals, see CRS Report RL33830,
District of Columbia Voting Representation in Congress: An Analysis of Legislative Proposals,
by Eugene Boyd.
Recognition to offer the motion to reconsider is dependent on having voted on the prevailing
side of a question — something the Delegates and the Resident Commission may not do since
they cannot vote in the House.
H.Res. 78, 110th Cong.
U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of
Representatives of the United States, One Hundred Ninth Congress, H.Doc. 108-241, 108th Cong.,
2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 2005), § 985.
Michel v. Anderson, 14 F.3d 623 (D.C.Cir. 1994).
The votes of the Delegates and the Resident Commissioner were decisive, and thus
subject to automatic revote by the House, on three occasions in the 103rd Congress.7
The rule governing voting in the Committee of the Whole by Delegates and the
Resident Commissioner has not been interpreted to mean that any recorded vote with a
difference of six votes or less is subject to automatic reconsideration. In determining
whether the votes of the Delegates and the Resident Commissioner were decisive, the
Chair follows a “but for” test — namely, would the result of a vote have been different
if the Delegates and the Commissioner had not voted?8 If the votes of the Delegates and
Resident Commission on a question are determined to be decisive by this standard, the
committee automatically rises and the Speaker puts the question to a vote. The vote is
first put by voice, and any Representative may, with a sufficient second, obtain a record
vote. Once the final result of the vote is announced, the Committee of the Whole
automatically resumes its sitting.9
See roll call #63, March 17, 1994; roll call #267, June 23, 1994; and roll call #277, June 24,
1994. The result of roll call #267 changed when the question was revoted in the House.
On May 19, 1993, a series of parliamentary inquiries were directed to the Chair about how the
“but for” test is applied. Congressional Record, vol. 139, May 19, 1993, pp. 10408-10409.
It should be noted that these provisions, by which the House automatically reconsiders such
decisive votes, are a different procedure apart from the right of any Member to demand a separate
vote in the House on any first degree amendment reported from the Committee of the Whole.