U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in fight between NJ, NY over Waterfront Commission
The U.S. Supreme Court indicated Tuesday that it would hear arguments in the case concerning the future of the Waterfront Commission, a bi-state agency that has monitored port activity and crime since 1953, and it set deadlines for the states to file motions later this year.
New York sued New Jersey in March 2022 after the latter attempted to withdraw from the commission, which is governed by a commissioner from each state.
Gov. Phil Murphy "remains confident that when the case is fully considered and decided, New Jersey’s right to withdraw from the Commission will be vindicated, and New Jersey will be able to reclaim authority over its ports with a regulatory structure more suited for the 21st century," Murphy spokesman Bailey Lawrence said in a statement.
In January 2018, a law passed in New Jersey permitting the state to end its participation in the commission — a decision backed by some lawmakers' belief that the commission was intended to be temporary and is no longer needed. Instead of the commission policing the waterfront, New Jersey has suggested the state police can vet the hiring of dock workers and monitor criminal activity at the ports.
"To justify its continued existence, the Commission has overregulated the port, stifling commerce and exacerbating worker shortages," acting New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin wrote in documents filed with the Supreme Court.
New York Attorney General Letitia James argued that New Jersey requires New York's consent to withdraw from the commission. She also wrote to the court that the agency's work is still necessary because "despite the bistate Commission’s many successes, criminal operations continue to seek to exert influence on both sides of the Port."
The Waterfront Commission was formed to weed out organized crime and prevent it from infiltrating commerce and work at the ports in New York and New Jersey. The commission itself became the focus of controversy for becoming "a climate of abuse," according to an audit issued by the New York inspector general in 2009.
Days before New Jersey planned to exit the commission in March, the Supreme Court stepped in and temporarily stopped the action after New York sued its counterpart. In May, Joseph Sanzari, who had represented New Jersey as a commissioner at the agency since late last year, stepped down from the position, telling Politico he was "not interested in serving on any board or commission in which my role would be to engage in legal jousting between competing sides."
Murphy praised Sanzari for his service and said he would find a replacement "shortly," but has not done so yet.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued several deadlines through November 2022 for both states to file motions and responses.
The attorneys general's offices in New York and New Jersey did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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