New York Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul today filed legal action in the United States Supreme Court to block New Jersey from terminating the Waterfront Commission created by New York and New Jersey for the port that the two states share. The complaint invokes the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to seek a declaratory judgment and both preliminary and permanent injunctions to prohibit New Jersey from breaching the congressionally approved Waterfront Commission Compact between New York and New Jersey. New Jersey’s withdrawal would likely cause immediate and irreparable harm to New York, resulting in increased criminal activity, higher prices on incoming goods, and racial and gender inequities in hiring at the port.
“For decades, the Waterfront Commission has been a critical partnership to keep our ports and our communities safe,” said Attorney General James. “New Jersey’s attempt to terminate this commission is unlawful, ill-advised, and infringes on our efforts to crack down on crime. This commission has long proved to be a necessary force to root out corruption and organized crime, and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure its powers remain intact and our communities benefit from its important work.”
“Protecting the safety of New Yorkers and our vital industries is my top priority, and we cannot afford to lose the Waterfront Commission’s unique authority and expertise in combatting crime at our port,” said Governor Hochul. “In light of current geopolitical uncertainty, the termination of the Waterfront Commission would cause immediate and irreparable harm to New York state, from increased crime to higher prices to employment inequities. It is our responsibility to New Yorkers to stop New Jersey’s unlawful actions and preserve the ongoing work of this law enforcement agency.”
The bi-state Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 to address organized crime at the port, which spans areas in both states. For more than 60 years, the Commission has worked to investigate, deter, combat, and remedy criminal activity and influence and to ensure fair hiring and employment practices at the port. The Commission has had many successes, including by providing unique bi-state assistance to federal and state investigations, and it is a vital law enforcement agency performing the critical work of combatting organized and violent crime.
The work of the Commission is far from over. Commission investigations continue to result in convictions of individuals associated with organized crime families, seizures of illegal drugs and firearms, and seizures of financial proceeds from illegal drug trafficking, loan sharking, and gambling. Organized crime enterprises’ attempts to exert influence over both sides of the port are ongoing.
Those who are connected to organized crime or other corrupt enterprises are often rewarded with high paying, low-show, or no-work special compensation packages. These special compensation packages have a detrimental economic impact on the port and the New York metropolitan area. The Commission oversees the licensing and registration of the waterfront workforce, including background checks to prevent individuals with mob ties from joining the workforce, and also works with employers and union leadership to ensure fair and non-discriminatory hiring and labor practices at the port. The Commission is the central repository of intelligence pertaining to criminality and organized crime influence in the port. In screening prospective workers, the Commission employs sophisticated investigative techniques not only to detect prior criminality, but also to root out associations between prospective longshore candidates and organized crime figures and career criminals.
Weakening or ultimately terminating the Commission’s ability to conduct criminal investigations and background checks and regulate the hiring, registration, and licensing of waterfront employees will likely increase opportunities for individuals associated with organized crime enterprises to obtain employment at the port or otherwise exert control over port operations. This could result in increased opportunities for the port to be used for criminal activity, such as the importation and distribution of dangerous contraband — including narcotics and guns. Increased criminal activity at the port would also likely result in increased prices for goods that flow through the port and into New York and the surrounding region.
The Commission’s unique authority and expertise are essential to overseeing activity on both sides of the port. Despite the need for the Commission to continue its work unimpeded, New Jersey has stated that it intends to withdraw unilaterally from the compact and terminate the Commission. New Jersey’s action would violate federal law, and the state does not have the power to abolish the Commission without New York’s consent, as the compact is both a binding contract and a federal statute, and its terms provide that it may be amended only by concurring legislation passed by both states.
The complaint filed in the Supreme Court requests that the court preliminarily and permanently enjoin New Jersey from taking any action to further its unilateral withdrawal and declare that any such action is unlawful and void to preserve and protect the Waterfront Commission and the interstate agreement that created it.