The judiciary is one of three separate and independent branches of government established by Article III of the United States Constitution; the other two are the legislative and executive branches.
Federal courts are charged with interpretting and applying the law to resolve disputes. The courts do not make law; that is the responsibility of Congress. The courts do not enforce law; that is the responsibility of the executive branch, headed by the President.
The founders believed that an independent judiciary was critical to the success of democracy. To that end, they directed that federal judges be appointed for life; they can be removed from office only if impeached and convicted by Congress of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."
The founders also forbid Congress to exact punitive measures by prohibiting Congress or the President from being able to reduce justice compensation "during their Continuance in Office."
The Judiciary Act of 1789 established the Supreme Court with one chief justice and five associate justices. As the nation grew geographically, Congress grew the Supreme Court. In 1869, the Court settled on its current configuration of eight justices and one chief justice. In 1934, Congress also charged the Supreme Court with drafting rules of federal procedure.
Seven of today's nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican Presidents. Ages range from 56 (Alito) to 86 (Stevens) ; three attended Stanford; six attended Harvard. Five had been in private practice; eight were already federal judges.
Justices listed by rank and seniority:
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr (2005-)
Roberts (bio) was appointed directly to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice by President George W. Bush. On 19 July 2005, he was nominated by President Bush to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor. After the death of Chief Justice William Rhenquist, the President nominated him to be Chief Justice. The Senate confirmed his nomination (78-22) on 29 September 2005.
A native of Buffalo, NY (b. 1955), he attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School. In 1992, President Bush nominated him to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but he was not confirmed. He was nominated again in 2003 and confirmed 8 May 2003. His law firm advised the Bush campaign during the 2000 Florida election recount. One of his highest profile private practice cases was representing 19 states in the anti-trust case, United States v Microsoft.
He is like his predecessor, Chief Justice William Rhenquist, in many ways: both attended Harvard, both were in private practice prior to migrating to the bench, and both were appoined to the Supreme Court by Republican presidents.