New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is spending a lot of his time pursuing high-profile lawsuits outside of New Jersey. Since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in January, the state has joined numerous multi-state legal actions opposing the policies of the Trump administration on everything from the environment to immigration.
“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 and of all nine million of our residents,” Gov. Murphy said when nominating Grewal.
Grewal has the distinction of being the first Sikh state attorney general. The son of Indian immigrants, Grewal acknowledges that he has personally been the victim of hate and intolerance. As plaintiff’s counsel for New Jersey, Grewal will have a national platform to address these issues.
The role of the attorney general is to serve as the state’s chief law enforcement officer and legal advisor. While the primary tasks of the AG are to oversee the criminal justice system, protect the safety of the public and defend the state against lawsuits, the ability to protect New Jersey residents is impacted by federal policies and legal decisions.
In February, New Jersey joined a multi-state lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that seeks to reverse the agency’s repeal of net neutrality, alleging that the FCC acted arbitrarily and against the evidence in reversing the long-standing policy.
“We are committed to taking whatever legal action we can to preserve the internet rights of New Jersey consumers and to challenge the federal government’s misguided attack on a free and open internet,” said Grewal.
With respect to environmental issues, Grewal joined the attorneys general of several states in formally opposing the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling. New Jersey is also pursuing a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) suspension of the Clean Water Rule, which significantly expanded federal clean water protections under President Barak Obama. New Jersey also joined 17 states in suing the Trump administration over rolling back vehicle emission standards.
Over his short tenure, Grewal has also joined several national efforts to combat the Trump administration’s immigration policies. In July, he joined a multi-state coalition of attorneys general in filing lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to place immigration-related conditions on federal law enforcement grant funding.
“Under Attorney General Sessions, the Department of Justice has tried to force a false choice on state and local governments: either you adopt the same harsh, anti-immigrant policies as the federal government, or you don’t get federal grant funding for critical anti-violence programs,” said Grewal. “But we reject that false choice. We will not allow the federal government to weaponize federal grant funding in an effort to advance the president’s agenda.”
New Jersey also joined suits challenging the federal immigration policy that resulted in the controversial separation of parents and children along the U.S. border.
Since assuming office, Grewal also joined a coalition of attorneys general urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject the addition of a proposed citizenship question to the 2020 decennial Census. Because non-citizens are counted in the Census for purposes of federal funds, the apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts, the inclusion of citizenship has repeatedly been rejected in the past. Asking about citizenship would limit participation in the census among immigrants and threaten the fair representation of states with large immigrant communities, according to Grewal and his fellow AGs.
Grewal also joined amicus briefs in two separate federal lawsuits involving discrimination against LGBTQ persons. One case involves the constitutionality of a Minnesota law banning businesses from refusing equal service to gay and lesbian customers, an issue similar to the one currently before the U.S. Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
“A ruling that allows business owners a ‘free speech’ or ‘free exercise’ right to discriminate against certain customers would make it difficult for New Jersey to enforce its own anti-discrimination laws and protect the rights of all New Jersey residents,” said Grewal.
In July, Grewal joined three other states in suing the Trump administration over its $10,000 cap on the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). More recently, the attorney general threatened additional legal action in response to the SALT ax cap. “We’re ready and willing to fight back,” he said in response to the IRS’s proposed rule on charitable contributions and state and local tax credits.