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New York vs. New Jersey Port Fight Heads to U.S. Supreme Court

Thursday, 23 June 2022 | 00:00

The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether New Jersey can unilaterally pull out of a bistate crime-fighting agency it has operated with New York for decades.

New York state officials in March asked the court to stop New Jersey from withdrawing from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a regulator set up almost 70 years ago to fight organized crime on the docks at the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The court promptly blocked New Jersey from pulling out of the agency while it considered New York’s request. In a brief written order Tuesday, the justices agreed to take the case and asked the two sides to submit written arguments this summer and fall.

The Supreme Court holds the authority to decide disputes between states. Tuesday’s order indicated the court may rule based on written briefs rather than hold oral argument or assign the matter to an independent expert, as the justices sometimes do in boundary disputes and other complex matters.

A spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said his state looks forward to being able to withdraw from the agency and “to reclaim authority over its ports with a regulatory structure more suited for the 21st century.”

New Jersey officials say state police can take over the commission’s regulatory functions on their side of the Hudson River.

A spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Letitia James said the office looks forward to presenting its case.

New York and New Jersey established the commission in 1953 to root out corruption and violence immortalized in the 1954 movie “On the Waterfront.” In recent decades, the commission has expanded its authority to include diversity in hiring for trades that it says are still dominated by a white, male workforce.

The commission also continues to aid in prosecutions. Last year, in a related case, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York said that organized crime remains a significant threat on the docks. It praised the commission for its intelligence gathering and investigative assistance.

The two states operate the port, the busiest ocean gateway on the East Coast through a bistate agency, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which also controls the region’s major airports and several tolled bridges and tunnels. The commission is independent of the Port Authority.

During the last 50 years, most of the port’s cargo-handling activity has shifted from the piers of New York City to large container terminals in New Jersey.

New Jersey officials say the commission has outlived its usefulness and that it stifles the port’s ability to grow because it constrains hiring. They are supported by the International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents unionized dockworkers, and the New York Shipping Association, which represents operators of the port’s container terminals.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Ms. James, both Democrats, have said New Jersey’s withdrawal would lead to an increase in criminal activity, higher shipping costs and racial and gender inequities in hiring.
Source: Wall Street Journal

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