The newest addition to the incoming Murphy administration will likely be a historic one.
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy nominated Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal for state attorney general on Tuesday. If confirmed by the Senate, as likely, Grewal will be the first South-Asian attorney general to take office in New Jersey and the first Sikh to hold the position in any state.
The nomination was hailed by both Democrats and Republicans; Grewal was originally appointed to his current position by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who called Grewal’s tenure “exemplary.”
At the announcement, Grewal noted that much of his experience matches Murphy’s progressive views. He cited his tenure in Bergen County as including a focus on treating addiction; building bridges between law enforcement and the community; and promoting tolerance and equality for all residents.
“Gov.-elect, I will work tirelessly to implement your vision for this state and help make it a reality,” Grewal said.
The appointment is just the latest example of Murphy making a point to repudiate policies of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, and adding someone to the administration who will help him do that.
“When it comes to deciding who will serve as attorney general, our state needs someone with a steel backbone who will not be afraid to stand up to President Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress to protect the rights and values of our state,” said Murphy. “Whether it is seeking to protect our immigrant communities and ‘dreamers’ from discrimination, fighting to protect the Affordable Care Act from being undermined, keeping sensitive data away from people bent on suppressing voting rights, standing up for our LGBT community, or for protecting our air and water from a hostile EPA, to name just a few, Gurbir will do just that.”
Grewal’s nomination has been lauded by many legislators and advocates across the board. Not only did he receive commendations by Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), and Bergen Senators Bob Gordon, Paul Sarlo, and Loretta Weinberg, but also the New Jersey State Troopers Associations, New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association, and Bergen County executive Jim Tedesco.
Christie said in a statement, “Gurbir’s intellect and experience is what attracted me to him and what led me to fight entrenched interests to make him Bergen County prosecutor. I am sure it is those same qualities that attracted the governor-elect to him as well. His tenure, almost without exception, has been exemplary. I am confident he has the skills necessary to be an attorney general we can be proud of in New Jersey.”
Current AG Christopher Porrino also tweeted his support: “Grewal is the kind of public servant who leaves his ego at the door & does the right thing for the right reasons. He’s smart, trustworthy and tenacious; qualities which will make him an extraordinarily successful AG. Looking forward to a smooth transition. #greatchoice”
Win for South-Asian community
Grewal comes from one of the fastest-growing communities in New Jersey. According to census data, the number of people of Indian descent in the state increased 73 percent over the 2000s. Despite the expansion of the Indian-American population, however, their representation in government was almost nonexistent until recently. If Grewal takes office in January, he will join Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji and State Sen.-elect Vin Gopal as the highest ranking South-Asian members of government in the state. Previously, Upendra Chivakula served in the Assembly, and now sits on the Board of Public Utilities.
Gopal said in a statement “I want to commend the governor-elect for nominating someone who is not only eminently qualified, but who will bring a perspective to the office that is diverse and long-overdue.” He added, “I look forward to working alongside Gurbir Grewal, and I have every confidence that he will serve the people of New Jersey well.”
Mukherji, now the lone Asian-American lawmaker in the General Assembly, wrote in a press release that the “state is about to gets its mojo back.” He wrote that Gurbir’s nomination “is so much bigger than race or religion. Brilliant but humble, fair but firm, and the consummate prosecutor, there is nobody better to implement the governor-elect’s criminal justice reform agenda.”
What’s more, members of the South-Asian community say they see Grewal’s nomination as the first stepping stone in a long path to diversifying New Jersey government. Jack Chan, president-elect of the Asian Pacific America Lawyers Association of New Jersey wrote in an email to NJ Spotlight “APALA-NJ hopes to see further diversity in key positions within the Attorney General’s office and law enforcement in general who work to serve our communities everyday.”
Grewal’s nomination was also supported by the Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association, and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
Prosecuting drugs and cybercrime
Among Grewal’s accomplishments as Bergen County prosecutor was the creation of the Heroin Addiction Recovery Team, which paired drug counselors with law enforcement at three municipal police departments. Grewal focused his attentions in the prosecutor’s office on battling the heroin and opioid epidemic in Bergen County through prevention and rehabilitation.
Prior to his tenure as the Bergen Country prosecutor, Grewal served as chief of the Economic Crimes Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 2014 to 2016 and oversaw the investigation and prosecution of all major white-collar and cybercrimes in New Jersey. Grewal led the prosecutorial team in United States v. Drinkman, the largest known data breach prosecution in the United States. He also led in United States v. Weinstein, a $200 million Ponzi scheme, and supervised the investigation of United States v. Turchynov, the largest known computer-hacking and securities fraud scheme in the country.
If confirmed by the state Senate, Grewal will take office on January 19, 2018.