Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general, is the state’s top law enforcement official, responsible for prosecuting major criminal and corruption cases, as well as providing rules and guidance to county prosecutors and local police.
In the Murphy administration, that job also includes being part of the anti-Trump resistance movement.
By its own count, the attorney general’s office has been or is involved in dozens of lawsuits against actions taken by the Republican president and members of his administration. The cases fall into a host of categories, including the environment, immigration, consumer protection, civil rights and health care.
The state does sometimes sue the federal government, but this number of actions in just the first 22 months of the Murphy administration would seem to be a record.
It’s a significant departure from the prior administration. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, did not do nearly as much to oppose actions taken by President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Christie got involved in two suits in 2015 — one shortly before he announced his run for president and one after he launched his campaign.
In one case, Christie filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to continue an injunction against Obama executive orders allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country. In the other, the state joined with other states in a lawsuit seeking to block Obama’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions at power plants.
Double-digit multistate lawsuits
But Attorney General Grewal’s actions are on a par with what other, mostly Democratic, attorneys general have been doing since Trump took office in January 2017. Ballotpedia counted at least 47 multistate lawsuits filed by state attorneys general, with California, New York or both typically leading the cases. Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University who wrote a book on the topic, told U.S. News and World Report, “The Democratic AGs — 16 or 18 of them — are this solid coalition that constantly communicate with one another about strategies and getting other AGs to sign on. It’s almost like a rapid-response group.”
When asked in budget hearings last spring about the federal actions, Grewal said most have been launched in an effort to overturn questionable rulemaking changes by the Trump administration. He said it seems that the administration’s efforts to roll back Obama-era rules “is being done in a way that is arbitrary and capricious.” Grewal also indicated there is not a high cost to them, as many are prepared using state attorneys working with other state officials on the filings.
Grewal’s office provided a list of those lawsuits in which the state was participating through September 20. Two additional suits have been filed in the past month. Starting with the most recent suits, here is a list of legal actions in which New Jersey is currently involved against the federal government:
- Last week, New Jersey joined a multistate legal challenge to a rule that prevents asylum-seekers from applying for humanitarian protection in the United States unless they have already sought asylum in a country they traveled through on their way to this country (East Bay Covenant Sanctuary v. William Barr). The rule, if fully implemented, would effectively bar most asylum-seekers from Central American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Grewal and the other attorneys general oppose the rule as an illegal ban on asylum-seekers, economically harmful to the states and dangerous to families seeking protection. New Jersey has the third-highest number of asylum grantees after California and New York, with 5% of the country’s affirmative asylum grantees living here.
- Late last month, Grewal submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court defending the lawfulness of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows certain young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children by their parents to remain here (Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California).
- The state intervened as a defendant in a Texas-led lawsuit seeking to terminate DACA (Texas v. United States). Last year, a federal judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction ending DACA.
- New Jersey is a plaintiff in a multistate lawsuit challenging the legality of Trump’s efforts to fund a border wall by declaring a national emergency and using billions of dollars earmarked for military construction and drug interdiction.
- The state is a plaintiff in a multistate lawsuit challenging the legality of the federal government’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border.
- New Jersey is part of a multistate lawsuit challenging the U.S. Commerce Department’s proposal to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census (New York v. Ross). Federal judges blocked the inclusion of the question.
- The state appeared as a friend of the court to challenge efforts to deny asylum to victims of gang violence and domestic abuse and to those who do not arrive through a port of entry (Grace v. Sessions and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Trump). Both lawsuits were successful so far.
- New Jersey was a plaintiff in multistate lawsuit (New York v. Sessions) and amicus in similar cases challenging the Department of Justice’s attempt to impose additional restrictions on the distribution of Byrne/JAG funds to state and local police. The federal judge held the restrictions to be unlawful.
- The state appeared as an amicus in support of a lawsuit against the “turnback policy,” alleging that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has unlawfully denied individuals access to asylum at ports of entry along the southern border (Al Otro Lado v. Nielsen).
- New Jersey filed as a friend of the court in Hawaii’s challenge to the Trump administration’s third travel ban (Trump v. Hawaii). The Supreme Court allowed the ban to take effect last year.
- The state is a plaintiff in a multistate lawsuit challenging the federal government’s new “public charge” rule, which effectively imposes a means test on legal immigration by denying legal status to those immigrants receiving government medical, housing or food assistance or other forms of public assistance.
- New Jersey sued the Department of the Interior demanding answers for why Florida, but not New Jersey, received an exemption from offshore drilling (New Jersey v. Interior). The Secretary of the Interior agreed to postpone offshore drilling in the Atlantic indefinitely.
- The state is a plaintiff in multistate lawsuits challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to loosen fuel-efficiency standards and weaken penalties (California v. EPA; New York v. NHTSA).
- New Jersey is a plaintiff in a multistate suit over the EPA’s refusal to impose tough emissions standards on upwind states that are home to coal-burning power plants (New York v. EPA).
- The state is a plaintiff in a multistate lawsuit over an EPA decision to suspend a rule limiting the production of super-polluting trucks known as “gliders” (California v. EPA.). The agency has since backed down.
- New Jersey is a plaintiff in a multistate challenge to the EPA’s efforts to rescind the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” rule that better defined Clean Water Act programs (New York v. Pruitt).
- The state is acting as amicus curiae to challenge the EPA’s limits on the use of outside science advisers.
- New Jersey joined with 21 other states to challenge the EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which relaxes federal greenhouse gas emission standards and other regulatory controls for existing coal-fired power plants (New York v. EPA).
- The state is part of a coalition of attorneys general suing the federal government to challenge new rules that would significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act, the nation’s decades-old conservation law protecting threatened and endangered wildlife (California v. Interior).
- New Jersey is an amicus challenging Trump’s proposal to ban transgender individuals from military service (Karnoski v. Trump).
- The state also filed a friend of the court brief supporting a gay couple after a wedding videographer refused to provide services in a case that questions the validity of a religious exemption from non-discrimination laws (Telescope Media Group v. Lindsey).
- The state successfully stopped Defense Distributed and its founder Cody Wilson from publishing online codes to make 3D printable guns and prevented the federal government from changing its rules to allow the publication of similar codes (Grewal v. Defense Distributed and Washington v. U.S. Department of State).
- New Jersey is leading a multistate amicus defending the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ limitations on the availability of assault-weapon and large-capacity magazines (Worman v. Healey). A federal appeals court upheld the law.
- New Jersey filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging a “recent pattern and practice” by the Education Department “of shutting down cooperation and information sharing with state law enforcement agencies” over student loan servicing.
- The state filed an amicus brief urging a federal court of appeals to preserve states’ authority to enforce their consumer protection laws against student loan servicers (Pennsylvania v. Navient Corp.).
- New Jersey is an amicus in litigation opposing federal pre-emption of state regulation of student-loan servicing (Student Loan Servicing Alliance v. Taylor).
- With Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, New Jersey successfully sued the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Treasury Department regarding the agencies’ elimination of the requirement that social welfare organizations report their donors. The federal court ruled that the IRS and Treasury violated federal law when they abandoned the policy.
- New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, alleging it violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide answers in response to New Jersey’s demand for documents linking DOJ’s recent crackdown on state-sanctioned online gaming to the lobbying efforts of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (New Jersey v. U.S. Department of Justice).
- New Jersey intervened as defendant to oppose the Texas-led lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act and is participating in the ongoing appeal (Texas v. United States).
- As a co-plaintiff with Pennsylvania, New Jersey secured a nationwide preliminary injunction in a challenge to the Department of Health and Human Services’ rule allowing corporations an exemption from providing contraceptive coverage when they object on moral or religious grounds and successfully defended the injunction on appeal (Pennsylvania v. Trump).
- New Jersey is an amicus supporting other states’ challenges to the DHHS rule regarding contraception (California v. Azar).
- The state was one plaintiff in a multistate lawsuit that successfully challenged the Department of Labor’s rules loosening requirements on Association Health Plans, which allow small businesses to band together to get health care coverage as if they were a single large employer (New York v. U.S. Department of Labor).
- New Jersey is a plaintiff in a multistate lawsuit that seeks to stop HSS from implementing a rule that seeks to make a number of changes to the Affordable Care Act, including an elimination of the prohibition on health care discrimination based on gender identity (New York v. U.S. HHS).
- The state is part of a multistate lawsuit challenging an HHS rule that would impose restrictions on Title X funding for low-income women, including prohibitions that prevent providers from discussing reproductive choices with patients (Oregon v. Azar).
- New Jersey is an amicus opposing new criteria for Title X grants that could divert federal funds away from organizations that provide comprehensive medical care in addition to family-planning services (Planned Parenthood v. Azar).
- The state is an amicus in a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the federal government’s obligations to provide financial support for insurers offering health insurance on an ACA exchange (Maine Community Health Options v. United States).
- New Jersey is an amicus opposing a constitutional challenge to a California law that requires state-licensed medical clinics to notify their patients that county health departments offer information about family planning and abortion services (NIFLA v. Becerra).
- The state led a multistate lawsuit against the Department of Labor, opposing the department’s decision to roll back previous rules requiring employers to publicly disclose workplace-safety data (New Jersey v. Department of Labor).
- New Jersey is an amicus in litigation before the National Labor Relations Board regarding the lawfulness of the misclassification of employees as independent contractors.
- The state was an amicus in a landmark labor union case, arguing that agency-fee arrangements are consistent with the First Amendment and that overruling a prior decision would disrupt state labor agreements (Janus v. AFSCME Council 31). The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that agency fees violate the First Amendment right to free speech.
- The state was a plaintiff in multistate litigation that challenged the recently imposed $10,000 limit on the federal income tax deduction of state and local taxes (SALT) as unconstitutional (New York v. Mnuchin). New Jersey and the other states lost, when a judge ruled the imposition of the cap constitutional.