Gordon, John (1849–1922), high court judge and politician, was born in Co. Down on 23 November 1849, eldest son of Samuel Gordon, of Shankill House, Co. Down, and his wife Arabella Barclay. A presbyterian, he was educated at the RBAI and at QCG (BA and LLD). After being called to the Irish bar in the Easter term of 1877, he went on the north-eastern circuit and established an extensive practice, both on circuit and in Dublin, specialising at nisi prius, in chancery and at admiralty. While not an eloquent speaker, he was clear, concise and had a sense of fairness which appealed to juries. He became a QC in 1892 and a bencher of the King's Inns in 1898.
In February 1900 Gordon unsuccessfully contested the Mid-Armagh by-election as a liberal unionist, but at the general election later the same year was elected unopposed for South Londonderry, a seat he fought hard to hold until his appointment to the bench in 1916 (in 1906 with a majority of seventy-one). He succeeded T. L. O'Shaughnessy (qv) as crown prosecutor of Belfast in 1905 and was involved in cross-party attempts in parliament to reform the Dublin shrievalty court (in 1902) and civil bill court (in 1907). Nonetheless he expressed loyalist opposition to endowment of a catholic university and the fears of the presbyterian church that it would lead to greater sectarian segregation.
While retaining personal respect for nationalists, Gordon sturdily upheld the interests of Ulster unionism. He encouraged artisans to join the unionist clubs to widen the unionist base in opposition to home rule and became a member of the provisional Ulster government formed in September 1913, in which he was appointed to the volunteer and legal committees and to the railway board. Edward Carson (qv), shortly to become attorney general for England, and J. H. M. Campbell (qv) both felt Gordon had the best unionist claims to be Irish attorney general in the discussions which surrounded the formation of Asquith's coalition government in June 1915. John Redmond's friend James O'Connor (qv) was passed over for the office and Gordon's appointment was seen largely as a consolation prize to unionists given Campbell's failure to secure the lord chancellorship of Ireland. Gordon was sworn of the Irish privy council and less than a year later was appointed to the king's bench when Sir Walter Boyd (1833–1918) was persuaded to conclude thirty years’ service by retiring and accepting a baronetcy. It was the first unionist appointment to the high court bench since 1896 and left space for Campbell to return to government as Irish attorney general.
During his six years on the bench, Gordon established a reputation as an impartial and painstaking judge who elected to remain with the southern judiciary under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. (His grandson maintains that the decision was at the request of Éamon de Valera (qv).) Gordon presided at the vacation sittings of the high court in the King's Inns on 26 September 1922 and, having been taken ill on a tram in College Green, died on the same day.
Gordon lived at 25 Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin, and also, after his appointment to the bench, at Lanmaur, Shankill, Co. Dublin. He was a member of the Constitutional Club. He married Dorothy May Clay, the daughter of Robert Keating Clay, solicitor, who predeceased him, and was survived by his only son, Alan Samuel Gordon, also a member of the Irish bar.