Tennessee’s newly appointed attorney general says ongoing litigation surrounding TennCare and the transition of a new health care insurance program are among the issues he expects to face as the state’s top attorney.
The state Supreme Court selected Robert E. Cooper Jr. to be the state’s next attorney general. The 49-year-old, who was the lead attorney in the governor’s office, was chosen from among three candidates narrowed down from a list of 14 applicants and interviewed by the state Supreme Court.
Cooper told The Associated Press that his experience handling cases concerning TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program for 1.2 Tennessee residents, has helped prepare him for his new role.
Last year, Gov. Phil Bredesen cut 170,000 adults from TennCare, citing years of escalating costs and mismanagement.
The state won a number of legal battles against TennCare advocates in order to make changes to the program, but more litigation is expected.
“My experience with complex litigation in the executive branch was something I stressed to the court in my application,” Cooper said. “We still have ongoing litigation issues with regard to health care and TennCare.”
Cooper said he would also be watching the governor’s Cover Tennessee insurance program for uninsured workers. It calls for the state, employers and workers to each pay one-third of the average monthly premium of $150. The premium will vary based on such factors as age, weight or tobacco use.
As attorney general, Cooper will serve an eight-year term, providing legal advice to the Tennessee General Assembly and state agencies, and acting as the state’s lawyer in civil court proceedings, as well as prosecuting criminal cases before the appellate courts.
As for the death penalty, Cooper said he has no problem enforcing it.
“It’s the law of the state of Tennessee,” he said. “I will enforce it vigorously.”
Tennessee is the only state in which the Supreme Court appoints the attorney general. Most other state attorneys general are elected or are appointed by the governor. The job in Tennessee will pay $150,000 a year.
Before joining the governor’s staff, Cooper specialized in corporate, constitutional and regulatory litigation as a partner at the prominent Nashville law firm of Bass, Berry & Sims, PLC.
He was a clerk for U.S. District Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer in Washington D.C. before going into private practice.
The Chattanooga native graduated from Princeton University and earned his law degree from Yale University.
Cooper previously applied for an open Supreme Court seat, but was passed over by the Judicial Selection Commission.
The state’s high court chose Cooper over two other candidates: Margaret L. Behm, a Nashville attorney and Joseph E. “Jef” Feibelman, a Memphis attorney.
Solicitor General Mike Moore is currently serving as Tennessee’s interim attorney general after previous Attorney General Paul Summers declined to seek reappointment.
Cooper said Summers has left him in good shape.
“I don’t foresee any major changes,” Cooper said. “I think it’s just a question of building on the solid foundation that he has left.”
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