Stephen Gageler LL.M. ’87 was appointed to a judgeship on Australia’s High Court on Aug. 21. He joins six other judges on Australia’s most powerful court. He will replace Judge William Gummow, who is stepping down in October at the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Since 2008, Gageler has served as the Solicitor-General of Australia, the nation’s second highest law officer after the Attorney General. He recently led the Commonwealth to a major victory over big tobacco companies when the High Court upheld the government’s cigarette plain packaging laws.
Appointments to the High Court are made by the Governor-General in Council with recommendations from the Prime Minister. Gageler’s nomination is rare in that he has not served previously in a judicial position. The last barrister appointed to the High Court was Ian Callinan QC in 1997.
A constitutional lawyer, Gageler studied law and economics at the Australian National University, in Canberra, and earned an LL.M. degree at Harvard Law School. He spent his early years as a lawyer in the federal Attorney-General’s Department. He practiced at the private bar in Sydney, where he specialized in constitutional, administrative and commercial law. He represented such major clients as Prime Minister John Howard, the Humane Society in their fight against the Japanese whale hunt, and the Australian Capitol Territory Government in advising against the proposed anti-terrorism detention powers.
Australian coverage of Gageler’s nomination has been overwhelmingly positive. An article in the August 21 edition of The Australian reported that he “was a favorite among bar councils, law societies and academics for the appointment to the High Court bench.”
The Sydney Morning Herald stated, “Australia has never before had a High Court judge with such extensive federal experience[ …] With this background, Gageler brings a unique sensitivity to and understanding of the workings of the Commonwealth. He can serve on the High Court until 2028, and the Gillard and future governments will hope that he leads the charge in support of a broader reading of federal power.”
Gageler was born in the small town of Sandy Hollow, the son and grandson of sawmillers. Read more about his background in this 2009 profile piece by the Sydney Morning Herald.