Tom O'Higgins was born in Cork in 1916, and came from the influential political family of O'Higgins. He was the son of Thomas F. O'Higgins and the nephew of Kevin O'Higgins. He was educated at St Mary's College, Dublin, Clongowes Wood College and University College Dublin where he became auditor of the Literary and Historical Society. He later attended the King's Inns. In 1938 he qualified as a barrister and was called to the Bar. In 1954 he was called to the Inner Bar.
O'Higgins was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) for the Leix–Offaly constituency at the 1948 general election. On the same day his brother, Michael O'Higgins, was also elected. In the Second Inter-Party Government (1954–57) O'Higgins was appointed Minister for Health. During his period as Minister for Health he introduced the Voluntary Health Insurance Board (VHI). During the 1960s O'Higgins worked closely with Garret FitzGerald and Declan Costello in re-shaping Fine Gael. O'Higgins was chosen as the Fine Gael candidate in the 1966 presidential election. He faced the incumbent President and Fianna Fáil candidate Éamon de Valera. O'Higgins came within 1% of beating de Valera, which was much better than he had hoped.
In 1973 O'Higgins was again chosen as the Fine Gael candidate in the presidential election. This time he faced former Fianna Fáil Tánaiste and minister, Erskine H. Childers. Childers was elected by 635,867 votes to 578,771.
Shortly afterwards O'Higgins was appointed a High Court judge; and in 1974, after the sudden death of William FitzGerald, O'Higgins, although the most junior High Court judge, was chosen to replace him as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. After the sudden death of Erskine H. Childers, O'Higgins, in his role as Chief Justice swore in Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh as President of Ireland. He was Chief Justice until 1985 when he was appointed a Judge of the European Court of Justice. He remained there until 1991.
O'Higgins died on 25 February 2003 at the age of 86.
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