Public safety would be at risk if NJ withdraws from oversight agency, NY tells U.S. Supreme Court

New York hit back at New Jersey on Wednesday night in the ongoing fight over the future of the two-state Waterfront Commission, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an injunction that would bar Trenton from its planned unilateral withdrawal from Port Watch Agency.

“New Jersey’s threatened actions will undermine the commission’s law enforcement and regulatory work,” warned state Attorney General Letitia James in a brief to the High Court, warning against damage to public safety and port operations.

James said that if the commission were forced to shut down or significantly reduce its operations on March 28, the date of New Jersey’s announced exit, “it will be difficult or in some cases impossible to restart the investigations and regulatory functions of the commission”.

“Confusion and upheaval will likely occur on March 28 when two sets of officials assert conflicting policing powers over the port,” New York asserted, adding that a court injunction “will keep law enforcement officers safe.” law enforcement, will preserve the confidentiality of the commission’s investigations and prevent the chaos and disruption to port operations that would result from New Jersey’s withdrawal.

New York took New Jersey to the Supreme Court last week, after a fruitless four-year legal battle waged by the commission itself to stop Governor Phil Murphy from essentially killing off an agency created nearly 70 years ago to fight against crowd control and corruption in one of the largest ports in the country.

The state argued that its partner on the waterfront could not simply decide for itself that it no longer wanted to honor its obligations under a bilateral agreement ratified by Congress.

New York has also criticized New Jersey for its failure to consider the commission’s impact on the fight against organized crime.

In its Monday response to New York’s petition, the New Jersey attorney general’s office argued that the pact made between the two states in 1953 was silent on whether either state could waive their consent. Based on his sovereign rights, he said he had the power to leave.

Acting State Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said the court should reject New York’s “last minute effort” to keep New Jersey on the commission, and that the state followed suit. law when he decided to go his own way.

“State police, the best in the country, have spent months preparing to undertake port surveillance, including to protect public safety and protect the port,” Platkin said.

At the same time, New Jersey claimed New York was behind the game, pointing out in its brief that James didn’t appear in court until years after New Jersey enacted a law to opt out of the game. commission in January 2018.

The New Jersey filing repeatedly referred to the commission as a “temporary interstate agency,” adding that was a good reason it was trying to pull out of the agency.

“The commission has become ineffective,” she told the court. “Given commercial and technological developments, five out of six dockside jobs monitored by the commission have disappeared. To justify its continued existence, the commission over-regulated the port, stifling trade and exacerbating labor shortages.

Gov. Phil Murphy said earlier this week that the state’s withdrawal from the commission was long overdue.

“The commission has long outlived its usefulness, and my administration remains committed to pulling New Jersey out of the pact and allowing the New Jersey State Police, one of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies, to to bring port surveillance into the 21st century.”

In its arguments Wednesday, New York said New Jersey was wrong about its ability to break the deal.

“The compact specifies the only two ways in which the agreement may be terminated: mutual consent of the contracting states or repeal by Congress,” the state wrote. “New Jersey’s attempt to build a third method into the agreement – unilateral termination – is contrary to the express terms of the pact.”

James also took issue with New Jersey’s “remarkable assertion” that removing its representative from the commission would end its continued funding, even if the Supreme Court were to issue an injunction.

“The preliminary injunction from this court will be just as effective as the district court injunction that has preserved the authority of the commission and protected public safety and port operations for the past four years,” he said. she writes.

The Waterfront Commission – which includes one member from each state appointed by its governor – has jurisdiction over all docks and terminals in the region, including the ports of Newark, Elizabeth, Bayonne, Staten Island and Brooklyn. It certifies that people hired on the waterfront are not linked to organized crime and are otherwise fit to work in the maritime trade.

New Jersey set its exit plan in motion after lawmakers, under political pressure from the New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association – two major contributors to lawmakers – voted in 2018 to withdraw from the commission. .

Although he once vetoed it as unconstitutional, the governor at the time. Chris Christie signed the bill during his last week in office.

The next Supreme Court conference is scheduled for Friday, when it could consider whether to ban New Jersey as New York has requested, ahead of Murphy’s planned exodus on Monday.

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Ted Sherman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL

Martin E. Berry