Hard cases, it has often been said, make bad law.
That is just what happened this week. The United States Supreme Court, ignoring the pleas of the governments of numerous countries, including the United States, turned the world of sovereign debt restructuring on its head.
In so doing, the court most likely damaged the status of New York as the world’s financial capital. It made it far less likely that genuinely troubled countries will be able to restructure their debts. And it increased the power of investors — often but not solely hedge funds that buy distressed bonds at deep discounts to face value — to prevent needed restructurings.
The case concerned an appeal by Argentina, a country that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit called, with ample reason, “a uniquely recalcitrant debtor.” This is a country that has made default a national habit over the last two centuries, making you wonder why anyone ever lends to it.