NASHVILLE - Tennessee's Supreme Court will name its pick for state attorney general on Monday, the office announced late Thursday afternoon, while the state's lieutenant governor and a former Knoxville mayor complained that the process lacks transparency.
The five justices interviewed the initial eight applicants for five hours Monday in public and then held further talks behind closed doors with six finalists Tuesday.
Sitting Attorney General Bob Cooper, a Chattanooga native and Democrat, is vying with five other applicants, mostly Republicans. The list includes Herbert Slatery, legal counsel to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Bill Young, chief administrative officer of the courts.
Tennessee is the only state whose attorney general is named by the state Supreme Court. Most states elect their attorneys general.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Victor Ashe, a former state senator, former Knoxville mayor and one-time U.S. ambassador to Poland, criticized the process Thursday.
"I don't necessarily like the fact that they're apparently going to make the decision behind closed doors," Ramsey told reporters.
He also voiced support for a Republican attorney general.
"Do I feel good for the fact that there are at least three good Republicans being considered for this? Absolutely," the Blountville lawmaker said.
He said he likes incumbent Cooper personally and doesn't find fault with some aspects of his performance.
"At the same time, if he's been doing a good job, I feel confident one of the three (Slatery, Young, Overbey) I mentioned can do as good or a better job," Ramsey said.
Ashe called the closed sessions "unfortunate" and added it "represents a missed opportunity for the court to be transparent as pledged by more than one of them during the recent campaign."
"The process has been 20 percent open and the rest closed," Ashe said, adding that state lawmakers ought to look at legislation making the process more open.
The high court has three Democrats and two Republicans. State voters in August retained the three Democratic justices despite a well-funded ouster effort by Ramsey, the Senate speaker, and GOP-aligned national groups.
The unsuccessful effort to oust sitting justices Sharon Lee, Connie Clark and Gary Wade sought to portray the three as "liberal." Supporters of removal cited Cooper's refusal to participate with 28 state attorneys general, mostly Republican, who filed suit against the Affordable Care Act.
Cooper this week defended that decision, saying that he didn't think it would be the best use of state money. The only purpose of joining the suit, he said, "would have been to make a partisan political statement on a divisive national issue."
Ramsey dumped at least $425,000 from his leadership PAC into the ouster effort. The exact sum will be known when he files his next disclosure.
But he thinks the effort served Tennesseans and the justices as well.
"That the people spoke. That's what it's all about," Ramsey said. "Their message that we don't want partisan politics in the judiciary won out, even though I do think that's almost comical because I do believe there's partisan politics in the judiciary.
"But," he added, "I do think that it was a good process, that the people learned more about their Supreme Court than they would have if it'd just been a rubber stamp election."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.