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Chief Justice John Roberts originally sided with the Supreme Court's four conservative justices to strike down the Affordable Care Act, but later changed his position and formed an alliance with liberals to uphold President Obama's health care reform law, CBS News reported, "according to two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations."

Roberts then withstood a month-long, desperate campaign to bring him back to his original position, the sources said. Ironically, Justice Anthony Kennedy - believed by many conservatives to be the justice most likely to defect and vote for the law - led the effort to try to bring Roberts back to the fold.

"He was relentless," one source said of Kennedy's efforts. "He was very engaged in this."

But this time, Roberts held firm. And so the conservatives handed him their own message which, as one justice put it, essentially translated into, "You're on your own."

According to CBS' sources, the conservative judges even refused to join Roberts on sections of the law with which they all agreed.

Instead, the four joined forces and crafted a highly unusual, unsigned joint dissent. They deliberately ignored Roberts' decision, the sources said, as if they were no longer even willing to engage with him in debate. 

Ultimately, Roberts tried to persuade Kennedy to join his decision so the Court would appear more united in the case. 

CBS News noted that even Roberts' opinion seemed phrased to appeal to Kennedy and get his vote, as it echoed some of the language Kennedy used during oral arguments. 

During the arguments in March, Kennedy told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli:

"Here the government is saying that the federal government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from what we have in previous cases - and that changes the relationship of the federal government to the individual in a very fundamental way."

Roberts wrote in the section of his opinion analyzing the Commerce Clause:

"Accepting the government's theory would give Congress the same license to regulate what we do not do, fundamentally changing the relation between the citizen and the federal government."

But Roberts did not focus solely on Kennedy. He tried to get the other conservative judges on board with him, at least on the parts of his opinion with which they agreed. 

"People, for good reasons of their own, often fail to do things that would be good for them or good for society. Those failures - joined with the similar failures of others - can readily have a substantial effect on interstate commerce," Roberts wrote in his opinion. "Under the government's logic, that authorizes Congress to use its commerce power to compel citizens to act as the government would have them act."

We hope that New York Mayor Bloomberg doesn't bust out this "people...often fail to do things that would be good for them" truism in defense of his soda ban. As for semi-intellectual courtroom drama: bring it on. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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