A non-binding resolution is a statement passed by a governing body that cannot be converted into legislation. It stands as a confirmation of the current position of the branch of government on a particular issue. Non-binding resolutions are often a source of serious controversy, particularly in upper levels of government; while some see them as important statements of support or a touch point for judging the officials positions on important issues, others find them an enormous waste of time that should be spent passing laws rather than debating legally useless statements.
In the United States, voting on non-binding resolutions has become a standard form of debate in the United States’ Congress. Proponents of the resolutions suggest that the debate allows states to see where their representatives stand on issues such as wars, healthcare, or support for a particular issue. Seeing where a political representative stands during a debate will allow voters insight into their moral and political perspectives, as the representatives may be more likely to speak honestly about their position when the result will not lead to a change in law. Some experts argue that politicians have a right to discuss these issues as much as private citizens, and Congress gives them the microphone to voice specific concerns or thoughts on serious issues facing the nation and the world.
Those against non-binding resolution movements suggest that Congress members have the same freedom as anyone else to engage in political debate in their homes or at the local bar, but their time on the job should be spent passing legislation, not arguing or voting for issues that will not affect policy. To many, non-binding resolutions are frustrating time wasters that prevent actual law from being passed in favor of vague statements that do not help the issue. Some consider them a waste of valuable time that could be spent actually passing legislation.
Often, a non-binding resolution is used as a way to ensure the minority opinion is heard. If a motion or law cannot gain enough support within the legislative body to be passed, a non-binding resolution can at least show that there were those in favor of the concept. It may also be used to support concepts where a law is unnecessary; in 1998 the US Senate resolved to support the democratic movement in Taiwan. While this had no legal consequence and was unrelated to US law, it affirmed the government’s commitment to supporters of a democratic Taiwan. Whether this resolution was heartening or a disappointingly empty promise is an issue of some debate.
Some experts think it is best to think of a non-binding resolution as a catalog of opinion, much like an informal poll. However, unlike a poll, these motions can be debated for hours before coming to a vote. They can also be somewhat useful in testing the waters for potential future legislation; although how a representative votes when there are no legal consequences may be considerably different than voting when new law will occur as a result.