SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration on Friday asked a panel of federal judges to delay its order that California release nearly 10,000 additional inmates by year’s end, granting him time to appeal the decision to the nation’s high court.

The judges have said they will permit no further delays in reducing prison crowding, which they previously found was the leading cause of substandard inmate medical care. The judges have threatened to cite Brown for contempt if he does not immediately begin complying.

If the three judges reject Brown’s request for a stay, the state said it intends to seek a reprieve from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who oversees appeals from California and other Western states.

A stay could delay inmate releases by a year while the justices consider California’s appeal.

The state “will be irreparably harmed absent a stay,” the administration said in its 10-page court filing. The governor has said previously that dangerous felons would have to be released, but the judges said it could be done without a threat to public safety.

The administration also argued that it is likely to prevail before the nation’s high court, even though the Supreme Court has already sided with the judges on the larger question of reducing the overcrowding.

However, the administration said it will comply with the release order if a delay is not granted by the three judges or high court.

The lower court last week ordered the Democratic governor to immediately begin taking steps to reduce the population in California’s 33 adult prisons to the level previously ordered by the judges. That would include expanding good-time credits that would lead to early release.

California already has reduced what once was the nation’s largest state prison population by more than 46,000 inmates since 2006. More than half the decrease is due to a two-year-old state law that is sentencing lower-level criminals to county jails instead of state prisons.

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