The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday is hearing a dispute between New York and New Jersey over New Jersey’s desire to withdraw from a commission the states formed decades ago to combat the mob’s influence at their joint port.
The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor was created in 1953 when the mob had infiltrated the port and was demanding payments from workers and shippers through extortion and violence. The two-member commission — with one commissioner from each state — oversees licensing and inspections at the Port of New York and New Jersey and has its own police force.
New Jersey lawmakers say changes in the industry, including the development of container shipping, have lessened the influence of organized crime at the port and reduced the need for the commission. The state says the commission has become “an impediment to economic growth.”
In 2018, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed legislation withdrawing his state from the compact. Ultimately, however, New York took the issue to the Supreme Court, which handles disputes between states.
The language of the compact creating the commission does not specifically address whether either state can decide on its own to withdraw. But New Jersey is arguing, among other things, that “mere silence as to withdrawal gives one State no basis to hold another hostage to a compact forever.” It also says in briefs submitted to the court that the commission was intended to be temporary.
New Jersey has the support of the Biden administration, which has told the court that the compact’s text suggests either state can withdraw on its own.
New York is arguing that when the compact was written, the states “intended to prohibit unilateral termination, not allow it.”