December 12, 2017

Attorneys general matter. That’s true on the federal level. It’s true on the state level. That’s why Jeff Sessions’ appointment as U.S. attorney general remains troubling. And why Gov.-elect Phil Murphy’s Tuesday announcement that he has chosen Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal for state attorney general is so encouraging.

Grewal, an Indian-American Sikh, would be the first Sikh serving as a state attorney general in U.S. history. The Glen Rock resident has been widely praised by public officials and civic leaders across the state.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Murphy said, “In light of all that is being thrown at us by the president, we need an attorney general unafraid to join our fellow states in using the law to protect all New Jersey residents.”

It is notable that Grewal, a Democrat, was appointed to the county Prosecutor’s Office by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The governor leaves a decidedly mixed legacy, but he provided real leadership in naming a Muslim, Sohail Mohammed, to the Superior Court, and in choosing Grewal as a county prosecutor.

Alfred Doblin: Gurbir Grewal will be good for Jersey, for Mahwah, not so much

Watch: Bergen County prosecutor discusses opioid crisis

On Tuesday, Grewal said, “The American dream is alive and well in New Jersey.” It is a sentiment we hope proves true these coming years.

In the past, that dream has occasionally been sidetracked by state attorneys general. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s attorney general, Peter Verniero, did not react quickly to combat a culture of racial profiling within state trooper ranks. It took years to repair the damage.

We hope Grewal fights the good fight, not the partisan fight. We expect him to stand up for the rights of immigrants in New Jersey and for minority voices, to fight racial and religious intolerance, and to support equal rights for the LGBT community.

Murphy said his administration will fight the Trump administration on policies that reduce New Jerseyans’ access to affordable health care, diminish voting rights and put the environment at risk. On this last point, we expect the Murphy administration not to give a pass to corporate polluters. The Christie administration’s $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. still remains unsatisfactory. The state had originally sought $8.9 billion for damage to wetlands and water at former refinery sites.

It is too early to know what Grewal’s priorities will be – he said as much on Tuesday. But New Jersey is at its best when it has stood up for the disenfranchised, when it has gone after corrupt public officials, and when it has broken new ground, such as advocating for drug rehabilitation over incarceration and embracing comprehensive bail reform.

The ACLU-NJ said after Murphy’s Grewal announcement, “Our attorney general will have the power to make decisions determining the most fundamental parts of a person’s life: whether they live their lives in cages or in freedom, whether police officers will be held to account for their actions, and whether immigrants feel compelled to hide in the shadows or participate in civic life.”

These are challenging times. New Jersey has a diverse population, many of whom are directly or indirectly affected by enacted and proposed changes in our federal immigration policy and by the president’s often nationalist rhetoric.

At the end of the day, we are a nation of laws, and our top law enforcement officials are charged with ensuring that it is the rule of law that governs our lives.

Murphy said, “States will have never have mattered more. Governors will have never mattered more. And attorneys general will have never mattered more.”

We agree. Grewal will matter.