Supreme Court rules that NJ has the right to withdraw from the Waterfront Commission

April 18, 2023 Robert Abruzzese
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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that New Jersey has the right to withdraw from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a regulatory agency established in 1953 to combat organized crime’s influence on the port. The high court determined that the Garden State does not require New York’s consent to exit the commission, which was formed when mob activity was rampant in the port.

New Jersey lawmakers argue that changes in the industry, particularly the development of container shipping, have diminished organized crime’s presence in the port, reducing the commission’s necessity. The state claims that the commission has now become “an impediment to economic growth.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court, stated, “We hold that New Jersey may unilaterally withdraw from the Waterfront Commission Compact notwithstanding New York’s opposition.”

The two-member commission, with one representative from each state, supervises licensing and inspections at the Port of New York and New Jersey and maintains its own police force, employing roughly 70 people.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James issued a joint statement after the decision was made and expressed disappointment in the ruling.

“For decades, the Waterfront Commission has been a vital law enforcement agency, protecting essential industries at the port and cracking down on organized crime,” said the statement issued by James and Hochul. “We will continue to do everything in our power to combat corruption and crime, protect the health of our economy, and ensure the safety of New Yorkers.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, on the other hand, was “thrilled” with the ruling, asserting that the New Jersey state police are “more than capable of taking on the Commission’s law enforcement and regulatory responsibilities.”

Today, around 80% of the port’s cargo goes through New Jersey, a significant shift from the commission’s inception when approximately 70% of the port’s business was conducted on the New York side.

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