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Breakdown of mob-fighting waterfront commission put on pause 

New York secured the Supreme Court's help Thursday in its bid to keep a famed port agency alive. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — As the Garden State attempts to pull out and thereby break up an agency famed for protecting New York and New Jersey ports against mobsters and crooked officials, the Supreme Court entered emergency relief Thursday. 

New York and New Jersey jointly established the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor in 1953. Since then the commission has become known for busting mobsters and crooked union officials, quickly inspiring Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting that was later spun into the Oscar-winning film “On the Waterfront.” 

Recently, however, a perception has emerged that the commission is now outdated and impeding economic growth. 

In 2018, after then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation to defund the agency, the commission secured an injunction and then summary judgment. The Third Circuit later ruled that the lawsuit was barred by state sovereign immunity, and the Supreme Court declined an initial invitation to get involved late last year.

As New Jersey prepared to withdraw from the commission effective next week, New York returned to Washington with a motion for emergency relief. Noting that withdrawal would include seizing commission files, assets, and regulatory and law enforcement authority over portions of the port, the Empire State says the Supreme Court must maintain the status quo while the states resolve their ongoing legal dispute. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy meanwhile insists that “withdrawal is long overdue.”

“The Compact made sense in 1953. It makes no sense now," the Democrat said in a statement. "The Commission has long outlived its usefulness, and my Administration remains committed to extricating New Jersey from the Compact and allowing the New Jersey State Police, one of the nation’s preeminent law enforcement agencies, to bring the oversight of the Port into the 21st century.”

New York claims interstate compacts play an important role in federalism, and one state shouldn’t be able to terminate the agreement by itself. 

“The core purpose of a compact is to enable States to forge stable solutions to problems that transcend their borders,” New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote in the state's application. “Accordingly, a bedrock principle is that no compacting party may unilaterally terminate or alter the agreement, unless expressly authorized to do so by the compact.” 

As New Jersey sees it, however, state sovereignty supports either party's decision to withdraw. 

“The drafters did not include any language in the Compact addressing whether either State may withdraw and reclaim its sovereign powers within its borders,” Matthew Platkin, New Jersey’s acting attorney general, wrote in the state’s opposition brief. “That silence proves fatal to New York, because this Court has consistently refused to construe ‘silence’ in an interstate compact to strip the States of pre-compact authorities.” 

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not issue any comment in Thursday's order granting relief. 

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