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U.S. Supreme Court Stops Efforts to End NY/NJ Waterfront Commission

Supreme Court hualts efforts to end NYNJ harbor commission
Waterfront Commission has overseen port operations seeking to stop organized crime for 70 years (file photo)

Published Mar 25, 2022 7:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The ongoing dispute between New York and New Jersey over the fate of the harbor commission designed to root out organized crime and corruption in the operations at the ports in New York and New Jersey took a new turn with the U.S. Supreme Court stepping in to decide the matter. The court, which includes resolving interstate disputes in its purview, agreed to review the case and issued a preliminary induction.

It is the latest turn in a four-year battle between the two states over the future of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor established 70 years ago. The commission, which is equally managed by the two states, was established in response to the long history of corruption and organized crime in New York harbor. Officially launched in 1953, it was approved by the U.S. Congress and the president to provide independent oversight in all aspects of the harbor’s operations. 

Four years ago, New Jersey passed legislation saying that it would unilaterally withdraw from the commission handing over the policing of the ports to its state police organization. New Jersey argued that the structure created in the 1950s was out of date and created a cumbersome bureaucracy that hampers the port’s modernization and growth. New York argues that the commission continues to play an important role in keeping organized crime out of the operations. 

“The motion for preliminary relief is granted,” the U.S. Supreme Court announced on March 24, just four days before New Jersey was set to officially end its participation. “New Jersey is hereby enjoined from enforcing Chapter 324 or taking action to withdraw unilaterally from the compact or terminate the commission pending disposition of the motion for leave to file a bill of complaint and, if granted, disposition of the case,” the court ruled.

“This swift decision is a victory for the safety of New Yorkers and for the health of our economy,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “We will continue to fight for New Yorkers to crack down on corruption and crime and protect the safe transport of goods."

New York has been fighting the case through the court system since 2019 when a federal judge first blocked New Jersey’s efforts to disband the commission. They argue that the original agreement says that it can only be ended under mutual agreement between the two states.

New Jersey had set March 28 as the date that they would leave the commission, but on March 14, New York petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court asked the court to block the “unlawful attempts to withdraw unilaterally,” saying that the actions would cause irreparable harm to New York’s sovereign interests and likely reduce security and stability at the East Coast’s largest port.

While the Supreme Court agreed to review the case, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he was disappointed by the decision. He said he still believes New Jersey is poorly served by the commission that has outlived its usefulness.