- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Applications are now open to fill a vacancy on the bench of Tennessee’s highest court, but one heavy favorite - should he chose to apply - still won’t divulge his plans.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, a longtime friend and adviser to Gov. Bill Haslam on legal and spiritual matters, has been coy about whether he would seek the Supreme Court position ever since Justice Gary Wade announced his plans to retire in July.

That didn’t change with the opening of the application period Wednesday, a day after Wade’s official retirement date. Slatery spokesman Harlow Sumerford said in an email that the attorney general is no closer to a decision.

Potential Supreme Court applicants must hail from either the eastern or western sections of the state, as there are already two justices from Middle Tennessee. The deadline to apply is Oct. 12, but many potential candidates are likely to want to wait and see what Slatery decides before submitting their applications.

The governor appoints Supreme Court justices in Tennessee, and given his close relationship with Slatery, he would be considered a near automatic choice for the high court.

Slatery served as Haslam’s chief legal counsel until the Supreme Court last year appointed him to an eight-year term as attorney general. The investiture ceremony in October featured Haslam and others from a tight circle of Knoxville friends who had considered Slatery their “elder statesman” for nearly three decades.

Greg Adams, the state’s chief operating offer, spoke of how he, Haslam and Slatery were among a group of five men who began holding weekly meetings 28 years ago.

“The idea was to invest in the lives of one another, to be more concerned with each other’s needs than their own,” Adams said. “To understand their families, their businesses, their hobbies and then to encourage, counsel and pray for each other.”

Slatery is a former chairman of the Knoxville law firm Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis, where he specialized in private business transactions and local government organizations.

One unresolved issue is whether the state Legislature will be able to resolve its gridlock over a mechanism to reject the governor’s nominees for the high court. Voters last year approved a constitutional change to give the General Assembly that power, but the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a method before adjourning last spring.

If they can’t solve their difference, any gubernatorial appointment would be considered approved within 60 days of the Jan. 13 start of the session.

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