Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction, will not seek another eight-year term as the state’s top legal officer.
Slatery, appointed by the state Supreme Court in 2014, notified the court and his staff this week, spokesperson Samantha Fisher said.
“Words are inadequate to express the honor I have had to be the Attorney General and Reporter for our great State,” Slatery said in a brief, two-paragraph letter to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. “Similary, I am unable to express the extent of my gratitude for the trust the Court showed in appointing me.”
As attorney general, Slatery and his office investigate and prosecute civil actions and consumer fraud and represent the state in court — including handling all criminal appeals.
In his time in office, Slatery helped lead nationwide investigations into opioid manufacturers, most notably cases against Purdue Pharma. The lawsuits helped lead to a $26 billion settlement with three major pharmaceutical companies.
His office has crafted legal opinions on a host of high-profile issues, including mask mandates and whether lawmakers can expel members from the Tennessee General Assembly for conduct prior to taking office.
Slatery’s office also investigated former state Rep. Jeremy Durham in 2016, concluding he engaged inappropriate sexual conduct with 22 women and his actions warranted expulsion from the legislature.
The inquiry came after a Tennessean investigation into Durham, and the House later that year expelled the Franklin Republican from office.
In addition, Slatery has pushed to resume executions in Tennessee, asking the state Supreme Court to set new execution dates.
Meanwhile, last year, the nonpartisan National Association of Attorneys General gave Slatery the Kelley-Wyman Award as the top attorney general in the country.
Gov. Bill Lee praised Slatery for his work.
“Tennesseans know him as a tireless fighter for justice amidst the opioid crisis,” Lee said on Twitter. “Thank you, General and job well done.”
But Slatery has also faced criticism over the past eight years for his office’s legal rationale in arguing cases, fighting to keep public records secret and for joining other Republican attorneys general on controversial cases.
A judge once ruled the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance violated the state’s open meetings law by conducting a vote via email. The registry operated under advice from the attorney general’s office.
In late 2020, the state joined an effort by Texas to delay four other states from casting Electoral College votes, an effort touted by former President Donald Trump as a way to reverse the election outcome.
The attorney general’s office joined an amicus brief in the case, meaning the state offered its support to Texas but was not a party to the lawsuit, which was not successful.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said the office became more “overtly political and more overtly partisan” under Slatery.
“In some ways, it’s hard to compare his performance to past attorneys general, because he clearly conceived of the job so differently than his predecessors,” Yarbro said in a statement.
“The next Attorney General will face a big choice whether to go further down the partisan path or veer toward the more institutional role as the chief lawyer whose client is every Tennessee citizen,” Yarbro said.
Tennessee’s attorney general is unique in the nation. The position is appointed by the state Supreme Court. Although there have been efforts in recent years to change the appointment process, particularly giving lawmakers more say, none have been successful so far.
Before the court-appointed Slatery in 2014, the Knoxville native served as Gov. Bill Haslam’s counsel from 2011-2014. Prior to joining the Haslam administration, he was in private practice in Knoxville with Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis, P.C.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and law degree from the University of Tennessee.
Mariah Timms contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery won’t seek new term