According to the Rules of the Senate (VI.4) (emphasis mine):

Whenever upon such roll call it shall be ascertained that a quorum is not present, a majority of the Senators present may direct the Sergeant at Arms to request, and, when necessary, to compel the attendance of the absent Senators, which order shall be determined without debate; and pending its execution, and until a quorum shall be present, no debate nor motion, except to adjourn, or to recess pursuant to a previous order entered by unanimous consent, shall be in order.

According to the passage above, the Sergeant at Arms may by authorized by attending senators to "compel" an absent senator to attend a Senate session. What sort of means is the Sergeant at Arms allowed to use to effectuate this compulsion?

  • Is the Sergeant at Arms allowed to threaten absent members with weapons (e.g. attend or I'll shoot/stab/spork you)?
  • Is the Sergeant at Arms allowed to personally and physically restrain and transport absent senators, e.g. with handcuffs or cages?
  • Is the Sergeant at Arms allowed to direct or order local law enforcement to perform an arrest (e.g., "Officer, please arrest Senator Hookey, escort him to DC, and chain him to Desk 5.")?
  • Is the Sergeant at Arms allowed to issue monetary fines, seize property, etc. (e.g. "You'd better be here tomorrow morning or I'm towing your car and bulldozing your house.")?
  • Is the Sergeant at Arms limited to moral persuasion (e.g. "Showing up is the right thing to do, your country needs you, what would your mother say if she found out you were at the bar instead of attending Senate proceedings?"?

Are the rules defined anywhere? Where are they defined? In statute? In case law? Elsewhere in the Rules of the Senate? Are the rules unwritten tradition?

1 Answer 1


The primary role of the Sergeant at Arms of the US Senate (working with the Capitol Police) is to maintain order and protect the Senate and Senators. Senators know and understand this. Unlike the relationship between police and the public where the police may go to great lengths, including use of force, to arrest individuals, the relationship between the Sergeant at Arms and Senators during a quorum call is more like the children's game of Hide-and-seek. A Senator, once located, is simply escorted to the Senate floor.

On the occasion of a floor vote for a campaign finance bill, Republicans left the chamber to prevent a quorum. Due to absences among Democrats, only 48 Senators were present to vote on the bill. Senator Byrd ordered absent Senators to be arrested. Senator Packwood (R-OR) was hiding in his office behind a locked door. When located, Packwood was escorted to the Senate door but was carried in Feet First (also at archive.org).

At 1:17 a.m. the police and the senator approached the Chamber's entrance. By prearrangement, Senator Packwood collapsed into the arms of the officers who then transported him feet-first into the Chamber. On his feet again, he announced, "I did not come fully voluntarily."

A more general history of changes in quorum call procedures and actions may be read in Quorum Busting.

Over the following decades, the Senate occasionally directed its sergeant at arms to arrest members. But the first openly physical act of compulsion did not occur until 1988. On February 24, 1988, in an attempt to establish a quorum on a campaign finance reform bill, Capitol police carried Oregon Republican Senator Robert Packwood into the chamber feet first at 1:17 a.m.

As to the long list of questions concerning how far the Sergeant at Arms may go, there is no history or precedent beyond the mere escorting of Senators to the floor. Keep in mind that any physical resistance to prevent the "arrest" could be considered conduct unbecoming a Senator and may be seen as bringing discredit upon the Senate. Such an offense could be punished by censure or expulsion.

Whatever action may be done to an offending Senator for evading a quorum call will be determined by a motion and vote of the Senate and not by the Sergeant at Arms.

Article I, Section 5, Clause 2:

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.

  • 1
    From the example you gave, I'd say that "arrest and bring back to DC/the Capitol" would probably be precedented - it's just an application of what's happened before, at more distance. Whether any Sergeant at Arms would be willing to do that without explicit direction from the Senate is a different question, though.
    – Bobson
    Jun 11, 2021 at 18:34
  • It seems some time after 09-JAN-22 and before 25-APR-23 the "Feet First" article was ~re~moved from the senate website. The archive.org has a copy. edit: The senate.org page exists at a different address.
    – user30575
    Aug 3, 2023 at 15:00

You must log in to answer this question.

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