NY asks Supreme Court to stop NJ from leaving port watchdog

March 14, 2022 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — The state of New York has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to block New Jersey from withdrawing from the commission formed by the two states in the 1950s to monitor corruption at the New York area’s ports.

In a document filed Monday by New York Attorney General Letitia James, the state asked the court to stop New Jersey from its “unlawful attempts to withdraw unilaterally from the Waterfront Commission Compact” by March 28, the date New Jersey has said it will withdraw.

New Jersey’s actions “will not only irreparably harm New York’s sovereign interests but will also likely upend security and stability at the East Coast’s largest port — which has operated as a unified whole for over six decades,” the filing stated.

The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor was formed in the 1950s to combat entrenched organized crime influences at the ports. But in recent years, New Jersey has contended that organized crime has largely been driven out of the ports and that the commission was impeding job growth by over-regulating businesses there and making hiring more difficult.

In 2018, then-New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation withdrawing New Jersey from the commission. A federal judge blocked the attempt in 2019, writing that both states would have to agree to any changes or amendments to their agreements and that corruption was still evident at the ports. But an appeals court disagreed last year and wrote that the commission’s lawsuit should be dismissed because New Jersey was protected by sovereign immunity.

Under New Jersey’s plan, state police would take over investigating criminal activity at the ports.

“New Jersey welcomes the opportunity to vigorously defend its law withdrawing the state from the Waterfront Commission, which has long outlived its usefulness and does not fairly represent New Jersey’s interests,” a spokesperson for Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in an email. “We are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will reject this last-ditch and last-minute effort to prevent the New Jersey State Police from assuming enforcement authority at the Port on March 28.”

The New York-New Jersey port system, among the busiest in the country, includes container terminals in Newark, Elizabeth and Bayonne in New Jersey, and Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York. The New Jersey terminals handle the bulk of the port’s business.

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit by the Commission that sought to block New Jersey from leaving the commission. That left it up to New York, as the last entity capable of blocking the move.

In its filing Monday, New York echoed the Commission’s argument that the compact formed by the two states in the 1950s can’t be dissolved unless both states’ legislatures agree to do so.