As a follow-up to this question, the answer there indicates that by the rules set by the Senate, a quorum is assumed to be present unless someone requests a roll-call vote. Because of this rule, the Palm Sunday Compromise was passed 3-0.

Under these same rules, what prevents a lone Senator from simply going somewhere by themselves, holding a vote on a bill, and then passing that bill 1-0? It seems safe to assume that such a thing cannot actually work in practice, because if it could then the entire system of the Senate would break down, with each individual Senator actually having the full power/authority of the entire body. But what would make such a situation legally different than the 3-0 vote that actually happened?

  • Similar things do happen. I seem to recall some Carolinian Republicans called a late night session a few years ago to do some shenanigans (maybe it was Wisconsin). I don't know if state legislatures are different or just under less scrutiny. Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 16:57
  • I don't know if it has ever been done, but I'm guessing that were someone to actually mange to pass a bill in such a way, the outrage woudl be sufficient that the senate might meet to pass a new bill to undo the damage.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 20:12

1 Answer 1


Votes have to be taken in the Senate chamber during an offical sitting of the Senate. A senator can't just pass a bill when they are alone in their office. They can't creep into the chamber in the dead of night and start passing laws.

All the senators know when a vote is being held, and can attend or not. It is a public debate and a public vote.

In the particular case (a difficult case about a request by a particular woman who wanted an assisted suicide) It wasn't that 97 senators didn't bother to turn up. Rather, in the days leading up to Palm Sunday, Senators discussed the case and it was clear that there was a majority in favour of the compromise. But there was no desire to have a competitive vote. This was a very unusual case, in which both supporters and opponents of the bill felt it was more respectful of the dying woman and politically wise to abstain. There was a voice vote with the bills sponsers voting aye and no nays.

If there is a politically controversial bill, then it is normal for all Senators to vote. A senator can't hold a vote by surprise, or pass laws by stealth.

  • 12
    That is what I'm saying. You can't do that. You need a presiding officer, and if there is to be a vote, all the other senators need to be informed so they can vote yes or no. My penultimate paragraph explains why this vote was unusual.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 21, 2020 at 20:08
  • 5
    This answer can be improved by providing links to the rules referred to in paragraph 1 and 2. Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 13:09
  • 5
    So how much notice do they need? If the presiding officer of the senate decides to hold a vote at 3AM, and sends everybody an e-mail at 2AM announcing said vote, is it his fault they were all asleep at the time? Seems like that could be exploited, so I'm sure there's something that makes that not possible... Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 17:55
  • 3
    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft: That's more a case of writing laws by stealth than passing them by stealth. The whole country knew a vote was to be held.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 19:27
  • 6
    This answer slightly understates things; in reality, it is not unheard of for congressional votes to be deliberately scheduled at inconvenient times for the opposition party, so as to help get a controversial bill passed. This was lampooned in The West Wing's episode "A Good Day" (ironically titled in my view, but hey). But yes it does have to be an actual senate session. I'd argue that the main reason this isn't done more often is M.A.D.: it would simply descend into farcical open warfare and, until very recently, nobody wanted that at the top tier of US politics. Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 0:37

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