3

When I’ve watched things broadcast from the House and Senate on C-SPAN, CNN, etc. there seems to be a purposeful avoidance of repeating curse words in quotes. I noticed today that Jamie Raskin of Maryland said (I think) "blank", replacing "fuck" or "shit" from a quote. Also, I think that the representatives avoided saying the phrase "crazy shit" when talking about something Don McGahn was quoted as saying.

Is there any rule making representatives, senators, and others purposefully avoid cursing while in the legislature building?

2

Is there any rule making representatives, senators, and others purposefully avoid cursing while in the legislature building?

[While the following applies to the House, it should be no different for the Senate.]

No, there is no specific rule regarding words to be avoided. "Members have been cautioned against the use of vulgarity or profanity in debate." 1

"The context of the debate itself must be considered in determining whether the words objected to constitute disorderly criticism or do in fact fall within the boundaries of appropriate parliamentary discourse." 2

Given the above, it would have been rather difficult for Representatives to debate H.R.3687 without the possibility of using some of the words listed in the resolution. As it happened, the bill died in committee.


See also the reference to H.R. 3687 in Seven dirty words.


1, 2 HOUSE PRACTICE, 2011, ch. 16, §22, pp 403-404.

§ 22. Disorderly Language

Members have been censured or otherwise disciplined for the use of disorderly words in debate, whether the words were uttered in the House or the Committee of the Whole. Manual § 960; 2 Hinds §§ 1254, 1259, 1305; 6 Cannon § 236. A Member may likewise be disciplined for the insertion of disorderly words in the Congressional Record. 6 Cannon § 236. Members have been cautioned against the use of vulgarity or profanity in debate. Manual § 945. The Chair may call to order a Member engaging in or tending toward personalities in debate or for a verbal outburst following the expiration of time for debate. Manual §§ 361, 622. For a discussion of critical references to Members, see § 37, infra.

Remarks in debate have been the subject of a resolution collaterally raising a question of the privileges of the House, such resolution alleging that the remarks brought discredit upon the House and proposing that the Member in question be censured. 110-1, Oct. 23, 2007, p 27966; see also QUESTIONS OF PRIVILEGE.

The context of the debate itself must be considered in determining whether the words objected to constitute disorderly criticism or do in fact fall within the boundaries of appropriate parliamentary discourse. The present-day meaning of language, the tone and intent of the Member speaking, and the subject of the remarks, must all be taken into account by the Speaker. There have been instances in which the same or similar word has on one occasion been ruled permissible and on another ruled unparliamentary. Thus the word ‘‘damn’’ has been ruled out of order, whereas ‘‘damnable’’ has been permitted. Deschler-Brown Ch 29 § 43.

1

Most parliaments have some concept of unparliamentary language. These are words that are seen as inadequate for the civil debate that should be going on therein. While it is expected that debates are heated, it is also recognised that a shouting duel or insults thrown back and forth will not further the debate, improve the arguments or lead to any common ground between the debaters. Thus, using language that is deemed unparliamentary – meaning insulting or swear words – will lead to the member in question facing disciplinary action up to expulsion from the chamber in the worst case.

There is never an exact list of words that one must avoid. If there were, members willing to insult others would resort to whatever is not mentioned on the list. Instead, especially in the UK’s House of Commons, the general concept is somewhat defined and known but it is up to the Speaker to determine whether a certain utterance is to be considered unparliamentary. Indeed, in some cases a member may even ‘get away’ with using a term the Speaker considered unparliamentary by arguing his case.

  • 4
    This answer would be much better is it referred to a specific procedure, rule or guideline in the USA. While this is undoubtedly correct, it currently contains no references to the USA specifically and therefore doesn't exactly answer the question. – CoedRhyfelwr Dec 12 '19 at 16:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .