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Justices to Vote on Health Care Law's Individual Mandate

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Now that the Supreme Court has heard more than six hours of arguments in the health care case, in many ways the work of the justices has just begun.

On Friday, they will meet behind closed doors in their ornate conference room and discuss the heart of the case -- the individual mandate that requires almost every American to buy health insurance. 

If tradition holds, the conversation will begin with Chief Justice John Roberts, and then every other justice will speak in order of seniority.  A vote will be recorded. 

No one, not a clerk, administrative assistant or staff member is allowed in the room.  If there is a knock at the door -- with someone bringing a law book or a glass of water -- Elena Kagan, as the junior most member of the court, will have to see who is there.

If Roberts is in the majority, he has the power to assign the opinion in the case or keep it for himself.  If he is in dissent, the justice with the most seniority in the majority will assign the opinion.

In this complicated case, which included four separate arguments on different aspects of the health care law, there could be more than one justice assigned to the task of dealing with all the issues. 

Last Wednesday, the justices met in conference to discuss the first set of arguments held on Monday regarding whether it is premature for the court to hear the case.  From arguments, it seemed clear that the justices would hear the constitutional issues.

Drafts will soon begin circulating to the chambers.  It is not unprecedented for a justice to switch sides during the drafting process, sometimes making a majority opinion a dissent.

Some justices have their clerks take a crack at the first draft of the opinion, others write it themselves.  But the clerks -- most justices have four -- are sworn to secrecy.  Leaks coming from the Supreme Court are almost unprecedented.

Popular belief is that the health care case will be released towards the end of June.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio