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Herbert Slatery
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Robert Cooper

NASHVILLE - The state Supreme Court today named Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, as Tennessee's next attorney general, rejecting Democratic Attorney General Bob Cooper's bid for a second eight-year appointment.

Slatery, 62, becomes Tennessee's first Republican attorney general since at least post-Civil War Reconstruction days.

"I'm just really thankful for the opportunity," Slatery told reporters following the announcement in the courtroom used by the Supreme Court. "It's a big job, but I look forward to it. I think there are some things I can contribute. I think the experience in the governor's office has helped."

Tennessee is the only state in the nation where its Supreme Court chooses the state's top lawyer.

Chief Justice Sharon Lee's announcement came at a news conference, where she and other justices refused to take reporters' questions.

It follows an August political season in which three sitting Democratic justices survived efforts by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and fellow GOP conservative hardliners at the national level unsuccessfuly sought to oust the trio in judicial retention election.

GOP critics sought to make Cooper, a Chattanooga native, a key issue, lambasting both him and the justices for Cooper's refusal to participate in launched by challenges to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Mostly elected Republican attorneys generals had filed the suit.

Haslam refused to participate in Ramsey's effort.

Democrats saw the justices' victory as vindication not only of Lee and fellow Democratic Justices Gary Wade and Connie Clark but of Cooper and a second term stint as attorney general. But the justices and their two recently Haslam-appointed colleagues threw open the application.

Cooper and seven others, most if not all Republicans, applied.

Just before the official announcement, state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, tweeted that he was "very disappointed in our Supreme Court."

Ramsey, meanwhile, tweeted "congratulations to Tennessee's first GOP attorney general in history."

In a statement, Cooper said, called it "an honor to serve the people of Tennessee as Attorney General. He thanks lawyers and staffers "whose excellent legal work and commitment to professional duty make this Office the best in the nation. Because of their hard work and separation of professional duty from personal opinion, the Office maintained its tradition of independence from partisan politics."

He also said, "I extend my congratulations to my successor. I wish him the best of luck and am confident the Office will continue in this tradition."

Slatery, who thanked Cooper for his service, earned a law degree from the University of Tennessee and his bachelor's degree from the University of Viriginia.

Haslam said in a statement that "I will miss having Herbert as part of our senior team. He is a thoughtful and strategic leader and has been a key member of our administration. I am confident those same qualities will serve him and the state of Tennessee well as he assumes his new role."

The governor and Slatery are lifelong friends and distantly related. But while acknowledging the ties, Slatery said as attorney general he will be independent.

The court held an open hearing on applicants last week. But they then retreated behind closed doors, cut two of the eight applicants from the roster and held further interviews with applicants in private.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who also once served in the state Senate, called it "unfortunate" the court "did not adhere to a fully open process in choosing the Attorney General."

"It would have been good for whoever is the ultimate winner," said Ashe, who believes Tennessseans should should elect the attorney general as voters do in most states. "The process was 80 percent closed."