Twenty-one years after being released from Iran and 12 years after suing that nation's government, former U.S. hostages may finally get their day in court.

A U.S. District Court in Washington has agreed to hear whether the hostages can sue the country for allowing militants to hold them for 444 days in the U.S. embassy following the Islamic revolution in Iran.  They were released on Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president.

As part of their release, the two governments agreed to ban any lawsuits.  But the judge issued a default judgment against Iran, after it failed to respond to a suit filed in 1990.

The judge asked Congress if recent anti-terrorism laws were aimed at overturning the agreement, and a conference report to the judge affirmed that intention. Still, a Justice Department lawyer told the judge that the report is not law, and that the Bush administration wants to abide by the original deal.

The judge will hear the case on Feb. 20.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.