O'Higgins was born in 1917 in County Kildare and educated at St Mary's College, Dublin, Clongowes Wood College and the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála for the Dublin South-West constituency at the 1948 general election. He lost his seat at the 1951 general election but regained it again at the 1954 election. O'Higgins retained his seat, representing the Wicklow constituency from the 1961 general election onwards, until losing it at the 1969 general election. He was a member of Dublin City Council from 1945 to 1955, and a member of Seanad Éireann from 1951 to 1954 and from 1969 to 1977 when he retired from politics. He served as leader of the Seanad from 1973 to 1977.
O'Higgins came from an Irish political family. His father was Thomas F. O'Higgins, a former leader of the Blueshirts and cabinet minister. His uncle was Kevin O'Higgins, the assassinated cabinet minister from the 1920s. O'Higgins's brother was Tom O'Higgins, a fellow TD and presidential candidate in 1966 and 1973. O'Higgins, his father, and his brother hold the distinction of all being elected members of the 13th Dáil in 1948.
He was married to Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins, also a Fine Gael TD. He married Brigid Hogan in 1958, one year after her election. They were the first married couple ever to be elected to the same Dáil. They had nine children including son Cahir O'Higgins. He died in 2005.