SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown's administration 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 an unconstitutional level of 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 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.

Complying with the order before the appeal is considered by the Supreme Court means that "a likelihood of irreparable harm exists," the administration said in its 10-page filing.

That would be because the court's directives "cannot be stopped or undone. ... Individuals now incarcerated will be released before the completion of their terms," the administration said.

It 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 inmate overcrowding. The high court supported the federal judges' 2009 inmate-release ruling in a 5-4 decision in May 2011, with Kennedy casting the deciding vote.

Yet the administration also said it will comply with the release order if a delay is not granted by the three judges or the Supreme Court.