Program Report: NC State Representative Marcia Morey – Legislative Update

Rather than reciting Marcia Morey’s numerous accomplishments and accolades, Durham District Court Judge Nancy Gordon chose a dramatic reading to introduce Monday’s speaker: she recited select passages from Sir Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s epic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade. “Half a league, Half a league/Half a league onward/Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.”

In the 1850’s, Britain was engaged in the Crimean War, and the Light Cavalry Brigade had suffered grievous losses at the Battle of Balaclava, inspiring Tennyson to pen those lines. While Tennyson, at the time Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, was obviously referring to the horrors of war, Gordon was perhaps drawing a metaphor about the partisanship battles currently being waged in the North Carolina legislature.

Morey served Durham’s 14th Judicial District as district court judge for 18 years, and as Chief District Court Judge for 5 years. She worked closely with law enforcement, defense attorneys, and prosecutors to create innovative and productive ways of dealing with 16- and 17-year-olds who had been charged with a crime. North Carolina was the only state in the country that prosecuted these individuals as adults, rather than as juveniles. Many of their crimes were misdemeanors such as trespassing or shoplifting.

“One year ago today,” Morey commented, looking over her shoulder to the Durham County Courthouse, “I was across the street holding criminal court. When I spoke, people listened. When I made a ruling, it was the final word, and it stuck….I listened to people in our community talking about joblessness, homelessness, drug abuse and violent crime, abused women and traumatized children. And now that I’m in Raleigh, I hope I can honestly educate our legislators about some of the real problems facing our community.”

Appointed April 5, 2017 to House District 30 as a North Carolina State Representative (D), one of Morey’s first acts was as an honorary co-sponsor of HB 280, which raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction in our state from age 16 to 18. She was a key player in a bi-partisan effort to make this happen. But she is dismayed at the hyper-partisanship that is hobbling other legislative efforts in our county, our state, and our nation.

“We all want better education for our children,” she says. (Note: National rankings released Monday put North Carolina 40th in the nation for educational quality.) “Why is it a political issue? Same for the environment. Not to mention the most contentious of all – re-districting.” With a Republican super-majority in the NC General Assembly, even quality of life issues that seem as if they could be solved with a little common sense deteriorate into bickering among politicians and struggles for power at every level.

For example, Morey said, “Our courts are under systematic attack, when they are supposed to be the third independent branch of government. We have three judges who are ready to retire, but Republicans are afraid of having a Democratic governor appointing their replacements, so they passed a law to have the Court of Appeals reduced by three positions.”

Currently, Durham’s seven district court judges are all elected county-wide. A new House Bill would redraw and split Durham into three judicial sub-districts. Another law recently passed eliminated judicial primaries statewide in the 2018 elections. Without primaries, multiple candidates running for each judge’s seat will dilute the votes needed to elect them. Morey trusts voters to select judges but would be open to a true merit selection of judges only if it was done by an independent, non-partisan committee. She is opposed to legislative selection of judges, like the South Carolina model, noting that all their Supreme Court Justices are former legislators.

“How do we stop this hyper-partisanship,” she mused. “Durham is undergoing this amazing renaissance, but thousands of people in our community are not benefitting from it. We must come together in Durham and in the legislature to work for the common good. Listen more, respect more, take off the political mantles and really work for the people.”

Which brings us back to Tennyson’s perhaps most memorable passage: “Theirs not to make reply/Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die/Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.”

Submitted by Carver C. Weaver

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