The Palm Sunday Compromise was a bill which passed the US Senate by a vote of 3-0, 97 not present. How is it possible for the Senate to conduct business with the overwhelming majority of its members absent? Where else has this procedure been used? For what reasons does this possibility exist?

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    You need to investigate quorum. Commented Oct 23, 2013 at 13:19

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia article answers your question.

A majority of Senators (i.e., 51 of the 100) is required to obtain a quorum, and only three senators out of 100 were present when the bill was voted upon. However, the Senate (and the House) conduct their respective businesses under the presumption that a quorum is always present, unless or until a completed quorum call or roll-call vote demonstrates otherwise (e.g., a roll-call vote or quorum call in the Senate failing to get 51 total votes or replies).

Since the 3 senators never questioned a quorum, one was present by definition even though there obviously wasn't.

This is allowed, because it is part of the rules adopted by the senate, their quorum procedures can be found here. Article one section five grants the Senate and House the ability to make their own rules.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

This may seem counter intuitive, but the supreme court has made rulings that both houses can decide how to determine a quorum in U.S. vs Ballin so the chances of this ever changing is unlikely without a specific amendment or a fairly major change in judicial precedent.

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    I suspect that the law could have been successfully challenged in court since a quorum is required and it obviously was not. Commented Oct 24, 2013 at 20:02
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    @SoylentGray As Ryathal said, it was present by definition. The Senate's rules define what is and isn't valid -- no space for "obviously" ;-)
    – owjburnham
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 10:53
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    U.S. vs Ballin primarily found that you need 'yay' votes majority of those present to pass a bill, rather than from a majority of the whole body. However, there was a quorum (more than half of members) present. The case also says that the chamber can set rules for how to check for a quorum. However, I wonder if there is a case that says a chamber can willfully ignore a missing quorum, despite the Constitutional requirement, "a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business". Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 7:56
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    I’m confused; this seems like it would imply that any single Senator acting all on his own could simply hold a vote for something and have it pass 1-0; with a quorum present by this same definition. How would that be different than this?
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Dec 19, 2020 at 23:26
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    @Phoog The opinion in Ballin said "we find that a majority of its members were present when the bill passed, a majority creating by the Constitution a quorum". It makes that point multiple times, which seems to indicate that the Court found it important. It also says about determining a quorum (emphasis mine) "it is therefore within the competency of the house to prescribe any method which shall be reasonably certain to ascertain the fact." The simple non-objection of three present Senators cannot be a method which is "reasonably certain" to do anything.
    – D M
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 20:04

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