Gov. Phil Murphy made history yesterday by appointing the nation’s first Sikh-American attorney general. Gurbir S. Grewal, who received unanimous support at his Senate confirmation hearing earlier in the day with a 29-0 vote, was sworn in hours after Murphy took office.
“Today is one of the most important cabinet picks,” Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) said at the Senate judiciary meeting in Trenton. “This is the right pick for New Jersey, this is the right pick for law enforcement, this is right pick for ensuring that all citizens of New Jersey are treated equally.”
Grewal’s nomination received widespread bipartisan support. Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) said, “Governor Murphy got this one right. He picked the most qualified candidate to be the next attorney general.” He called Grewal’s nomination “the best thing [Murphy] has done” so far.
The state’s 61st attorney general, Grewal thanked his mentors, his wife, and three young daughters, saying “Girls, I continue in this public service journey for really one reason, and that’s to ensure that each of you grow up in a fair and just society.” He also thanked law enforcement from Bergen county as well as religious leaders from the community.
Bergen County prosecutor
“I am a proud son of New Jersey,” Grewal said. “I never once imagined that my life’s journey could bring me here today.”
Grewal began practicing law 18 years ago in Washington, D.C. and in New York before becoming an Assistant United States Attorney for New York in 2004 and an AUSA for New Jersey in 2010. In 2016, he moved back to his hometown of Glen Rock to serve as Bergen County prosecutor where he oversaw a staff of approximately 265 people including assistant prosecutors, detectives, and support staff.
As state attorney general, Grewal said he intends to focus on many of the same issues he tackled as Bergen County prosecutor: identifying and treating addiction, improving police-community relations, and promoting social and racial justice.
In the matter of addiction, Grewal said he hopes to replicate the successful playbooks used in many New Jersey counties such as Bergen and coordinate those efforts across all 21 counties to ensure a focus on treatment and support for those suffering from opioid and heroin addiction.
Targeting drug manufacturers
He said he also intends to look for opportunities to bring civil litigation against drug manufacturers to hold them responsible for any marketing fraud or deceit that may have contributed to the growing opioid crisis.
Grewal also emphasized the need for more transparency and implicit-bias training for law enforcement members to ensure that “all are treated with dignity and respect.”
In response to a question from Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) regarding natural-resource damage lawsuits — a ballot question in the most recent election — Grewal said the issue is simply a matter of resources and expertise. “It is my view that we should use all available legal tools to hold polluters accountable,” he said.
Former Gov. Chris Christie recently pocket-vetoed legislation that sought to ban the state pension system from investing in companies that use legal maneuvers like declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying to clean up polluted areas in New Jersey.
One issue that will have Grewal working in close quarters with Murphy is marijuana legalization. The new governor made it a core tenet of his campaign and Grewal said he is prepared to assist Murphy in making it a reality if the Legislature votes for a bill.
“If the duly enacted law of the state is to legalize marijuana then my job is to make sure it’s done in the most effective manner possible,” Grewal said.