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Supreme Court eyeing N.J. bid to dissolve ports watchdog
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Supreme Court eyeing N.J. bid to dissolve ports watchdog

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Assemblyman John Burzichelli, and State Sen. Steve Sweeney, tour the Port of Paulsboro, where EEW is building a factory to make monopiles for offshore wind industry

NEWARK — New Jersey’s attempt to withdraw from a bi-state commission that monitors corruption at the metropolitan New York port complex could get a hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court on Monday asked the acting U.S. solicitor general to weigh in on the dispute before it decides whether to hear the case.

New Jersey has taken steps in recent years to dissolve the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, an entity created in the 1950s to combat entrenched organized crime influences at the ports of New York and New Jersey, of the type dramatized in the 1954 film “On the Waterfront.”

The New York-New Jersey port system, considered the second-busiest in the country, includes container terminals in Newark, Elizabeth and Bayonne in New Jersey, and Staten Island and Brooklyn in New York. The New Jersey terminals handle the bulk of the port's business.

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The state has contended that organized crime has largely been driven out of the ports and that the commission was impeding job growth by over-regulating the businesses there. In 2018, then-New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation withdrawing New Jersey from the commission.

A federal judge blocked New Jersey’s attempt in 2019, writing that both states would have to agree to any changes or amendments to their agreements and that corruption was still evident at the ports. But an appeals court disagreed last year and wrote that the commission's lawsuit should be dismissed because New Jersey was protected by sovereign immunity.

In the commission's petition to the Supreme Court in December, it contended that allowing a state to unilaterally dissolve a bi-state compact that essentially has the status of federal law would undermine the government's ability to get states to enter into such agreements in the future.

In a short note released Monday, the Supreme Court requested that Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar file a brief “expressing the views of the United States.” The solicitor general represents the federal government in cases before the Supreme Court.

An attorney representing the commission declined to comment Monday. A message was left with the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, which is representing the state.

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