Supreme Court Weighs Aid to Holders of Argentine Debt

The issue before the justices was in some ways a minor one, and they will soon decide whether to hear a second ...

The issue before the justices was in some ways a minor one, and they will soon decide whether to hear a second and more significant case arising from Argentina_s 2001 default on billions of dollars of debt. That case is an appeal by Argentina of a lower court_s decision in favor of hedge funds that held about $1.3 billion in Argentine bonds.

The question for the justices at Monday_s argument was whether federal courts in the United States may issue subpoenas to banks to help creditors who have won judgments against Argentina find assets around the world. Several justices seemed prepared to allow subpoenas for some information, though some of them suggested the creditors_ requests had been too sweeping.

Theodore B. Olson, a lawyer for the bondholders in both cases, said they were entitled to detailed information because Argentina had been disguising and hiding its assets. _If it_s an airline that says Argentine Air Force on the side of it,_ he said, _it still could be commercial property. We need to know what those assets are._

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that request went too far. _Doesn_t that seem pretty extraordinary?_ he asked, adding: _That_s pretty intrusive at a sovereign level to say you can find out how many jet fighters Argentina happens to have._

Jonathan I. Blackman, a lawyer for Argentina, said the information sought would also intrude on other matters protected by foreign sovereign immunity. _The sweeping worldwide forensic examination of foreign state property that the court of appeals approved,_ he said, would reveal information about _diplomatic and military property, national security assets, property of the states, current and former presidents, and other property outside the United States._

Several justices noted that obtaining information about assets abroad was no guarantee that foreign courts would enforce the judgment the bondholders had obtained in American courts.

Edwin S. Kneedler, a deputy solicitor general, argued in support of Argentina. _The United States would be gravely concerned,_ he said, _about an order of a trial court in a foreign country, entered at the behest of a private person, seeking to establish a clearinghouse in that country of all the United States_ assets._

Justice Antonin Scalia responded that the United States seemed alone in voicing concern. He said no other country had filed a brief supporting Argentina in the case, Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, No 12-842.

_They file all the time when there is a case before us that they think trenches upon their prerogatives,_ he said. _Not a single foreign country, maybe because Argentina owes them money as well as it does these plaintiffs._

New York Times | By ADAM LIPTAK

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