The Senate is governed by the Constitution, a set of standing rules, precedents established in the course of the legislative process, and special rules of procedure adopted by statute for particular types of legislation. These rules determine how bills and resolutions are moved towards passage, the structure of Senate committees, how debate proceeds on the Chamber floor, and how members cast votes. The rules have been the linchpin of orderly proceedings and civil debate—with some notable exceptions—in the Senate since 1789.
The Senate adopted its first set of rules shortly after achieving a quorum in April 1789, borrowing heavily from the rules that had governed the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. The Senate has added new rules gradually over time and revised the collection of rules only six times throughout its history.
Just as important as the standing rules are the precedents that have been set by the presiding officer and by votes of senators in the course of its operation. Since 1935, the presiding officer has benefited from the advice of the Senate parliamentarian, whose office has been tasked with maintaining records of Senate precedents and providing assistance on the meaning and application of the Chamber’s rules.