International Judicial Monitor
Published by the American Society of International Law and the International Judicial Academy
September 2008 Issue

Justice In Profile


Elena Inés Highton de NolascoElena Inés Highton de Nolasco is the Vice-President of the Supreme Court of Argentina (la Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación), a position to which she was appointed in August 2005. Aside from this office, Justice Highton holds an even more impressive distinction in Argentine history. On June 29, 2004, she became the first woman to be sworn in as a Justice on Argentina’s Supreme Court during a democratically elected government (Margarita Argúas served briefly on the Supreme Court in 1970 during the military dictatorship of Roberto Marcelo Livingston). Justice Highton’s swearing in ceremony was closely followed by that of Justice Carmen Argibay. They, along with five male justices, serve on the seven-member Supreme Court.

Justice Highton was born on December 7, 1942 in Lomas de Zamora, Buenos Aires. She studied law and social sciences at the University of Buenos Aires and received degrees in 1966 qualifying her as a lawyer, solicitor, and public notary. She also completed her postgraduate studies at the University of Buenos Aires, including doctorate work in international relations and civil law, culminating with a Doctor of Law and Social Sciences in 1980. After receiving her degrees from the University of Buenos Aires, Justice Highton went into the private practice of law. In December 1973, the National Judiciary called upon her to serve as an official defense lawyer for incapable and absentee defendants before the National Appellate Chamber, a position she held until 1979.

In May 1979, Justice Highton began her judicial career as a Federal Judge of Special First Instance in Civil and Commercial, followed by an appointment in 1989 as a Federal Judge of First Instance in civil cases. Her most high-profile position before arriving at the Supreme Court was as a Judge on the National Civil Appeals Chamber from 1994 – 2004. As a result of these experiences, Justice Highton is now a widely renowned expert in civil law. She has written numerous books on civil law issues, including two on alternative dispute resolution and mediation (see below). As a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, she taught courses on civil law in the School of Law and Social Sciences.

Justice Highton’s involvement in judicial activities outside the courtroom is noteworthy. She has long been a supporter of judicial education. She is a member of the Steering Committee for the organization of an Argentine judicial school and is a member of the Academic Committee of the Latin American office of the International Judicial Academy. She attended several judicial development seminars at the National Judicial College (NJC) in Reno Nevada on General Jurisdiction (1989), Dispute Resolution (1991), and Leadership (1998). She has clearly stated: “Judicial education is a must everywhere.”

Gladys Stella Alvarez, a judge on the National Civil Appeals Chamber, and Justice Highton were so deeply affected by their experience at the dispute resolution seminar at the NJC that they personally began to build momentum and enthusiasm in Argentina for alternative dispute resolution programs. In 1991 they co-founded Fundación Libra, a non-governmental organization dedicated to judicial reform and the institutionalization of ADR programs. Both women currently serve as the organization’s Academic Directors and are members of the Honorary Board. ADR has become, through their efforts, a recognized judicial process in Argentina. The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution recognized Justice Highton in 1994 for her work with Fundación Libra and presented her with a “Special Award for Excellence and Innovation in ADR.”

Justice Highton refined her dispute resolution skills during educational programs at Harvard Law School on Negotiation (1992) and Mediation (1993). She has sat on various committees created by the Argentine government to explore mediation possibilities and has authored and co-authored numerous books and articles on the relationship between ADR and justice.

Throughout Latin America and much of the international community, Justice Highton is regarded as a champion of women’s rights issues. After joining the Supreme Court she headed a commission on domestic violence. She is a member of the International Association of Women Judges. In March 2008, she participated in a conference sponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue that addressed promoting women’s rights by examining such areas as domestic violence and access to justice for women. In an October 2007 interview she stated: “This is the time of the woman, and people want to try something new.”

Justice Highton also campaigns vigorously for judicial independence, which she considers “the kernel of the rule of law.”

by James G. Apple, Co-Editor, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy; and Christine E. White, International Judicial Academy


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© 2008 – The American Society of International Law and International Judicial Academy.

Editors: James G. Apple, Veronica Onorevole and Andrew Solomon.
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