This paper illustrates the possible use of empirical methods for the textual analysis of large collections of cases with the intention to contribute to a mutually fruitful interplay of empirical and hermeneutic methods. Based on a collection of ca. 400 cases of sovereign debt litigation before U.S. courts, the paper analyzes how U.S. courts take into account the public interest of the debtor state in achieving a sustainable debt burden. For this purpose, the paper focuses on the defenses raised by the debtor state and categorizes them. It turns out that these defenses change over time broadly in line with the foreign policy preferences of the U.S. government. While sovereign immunity was an important defense in the 1980s, the 1990s saw a wealth of sometimes newly-created public interest defenses. In the 2000s, defenses articulating a public interest of the debtor state become very rare. Some explanations are offered for these findings.