In a request for a hearing, attorneys for the plaintiffs said: "It is now time to accord relief to the more than 120,000 . . . Americans who were confined in the prison camps and deprived of virtually every constitutional and common right guaranteed to them, solely on the basis of their racial ancestry and the force of this court's wartime decisions."
Justice Department lawyers argued that the cases, filed on behalf of 19 detainees or members of their families, were filed after the statute of limitations had expired and were "plainly without merit."
The suit asks for $200,000 for each internment, a sum that would total about $24 billion if given to all the Japanese-Americans who were held during the war.
In other action, the court:
* Agreed in a Pennsylvania case to consider making it more difficult for women to win paternity lawsuits against the men they say fathered their children.
* Held that city and county governments have broad power under the Constitution to ban sexually suggestive activities in any place selling liquor or beer. The ruling involved a Kentucky city's ban on nude dancing in any bar, but the court's reasoning appeared to be broad enough to reach any kind of sexually explicit activity wherever liquor is regulated, including public stadiums.
* Ruled 8-1, in the case of a Connecticut schoolteacher, that employers may deny paid leave for special religious holidays without proving that granting paid time off would cause them undue hardship.
* Refused to allow the display of an illuminated cross above the St. Charles, Ill., firehouse during the Christmas season. The justices let stand a ruling that the display is an impermissible government endorsement of Christianity.