I was astonished by the news that Warren was silenced by the Senate for "impugning a senator" because in my eyes the rule itself seems to conflict with democratic principles of the USA as well as the 1st amendment. It seems incredible that:

1) A rule that prevents criticism of politicians during political debates in Senate because that would allow the majority to prevent minority from criticizing majority, therefor cementing perpetual rule by the current majority. In particular, this rule would prevent quite rightful impugning of senator MacCarthy in 1950s.

2) A rule that dictates what somebody can or cannot say about the conduct of a public person seems to violate the 1st amendment.

Can anybody clarify how this rule can even exist?


This rule does not limit most kinds of debate. It only limits remarks about senators, the policies proposed by senators are not protected. Saying a policy is wrong is fine, but saying it was proposed by a jerk is not. This rule is to avoid debates degenerating to name calling and help protect the dignity of office.

The oddity here is that a senator is the nominee. So the rule limiting remarks about a senator is usable to limit the kinds of remarks made about the nominee. There is some contention that a senator is not eligible for appointment, but resignation on appointment seems to be acceptable.

Of course private citizens can still disparage senators, but the senate will not provide a platform for detracting from the senate.

  • Actually, the Senate does not require on-topic discussion. Rule 19 is the "content" rule. – user6726 Feb 8 '17 at 20:36
  • Yes, it seems that the topic of the discussion is, in fact, the nominee's character. So the rule against calling the senator a jerk is interfering with the matter of the discussion. – Michael Feb 9 '17 at 0:49
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    @Michael Calling a senator a jerk is not "discussing the matter," as it does nothing to further the discussion, even if the topic is the senator's character. – Andy Feb 9 '17 at 22:10
  • @Andy: calling him a jerk won't help; demonstrating, based on his prior conduct, that he is one would. – Michael Feb 10 '17 at 17:29
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    @Michael Right... but the rule about not calling him a jerk doesn't interfere with that. And frankly character assassination isn't really that relevant either. You should be able to make your point objectively by siting actions which are objectionable, not trying to paint someone as a "bad person." – Andy Feb 10 '17 at 23:50

Art. 1 Sect 5 of the Constitution empowers both houses to make their own rules. That means that they can articulate rules regarding what or how you can talk on the floor. It is held that the president of the senate can issue a ruling, and the ruling can be overridden by majority vote. If the Constitution were amended to be more specific about rules of conduct, then some such Senate rules might be unconstitutional and SCOTUS could invalidate the rule. The only specific constitutional requirement on conducting business is that a majority constitutes a quorum.


Senate Rule XIX (2) provides that, "No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." The Rule was recently invoked after Senator Warren referred to Senator Sessions as a disgrace (quoting the late Senator Kennedy), and as a liar, quoting Coretta Scott King. She broke the rule; she got punished accordingly. The fact that some people do not get punished for breaking rules -- or laws -- is not a justification for abandoning those rules or laws. Nor is it unfair to those who do get caught and punished. "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." (Tony Baretta)

  • -1. All of this information is already stated. The question is about whether the rule is even constitutional, which would be eminent reason to abandon it, and this response says absolutely nothing about it. – Nij Feb 19 '17 at 0:23
  • Sorry, but the question is so ill-conceived that it appeared to be rhetorical in nature. The authority for the Rules of the Senate is directly derived from the Constitution. "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" (U.S. Const. Art. I, § 5, cl. 2). So, yes, it is constitutional, since the Constitution provides the Senate with the authority to make its Rules. – MaskedCarrot Feb 19 '17 at 1:00
  • But this response says absolutely nothing about it, and hence it does not answer the question. – Nij Feb 19 '17 at 1:04

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