WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court has rejected California's appeal of a lower-court order that could force the state to release thousands of California prison inmates before they complete their sentences.

The justices did not comment on their order Tuesday, which leaves in place the earlier ruling by a panel of three federal judges requiring California to reduce its prison population by an additional 9,600 inmates to improve conditions.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has argued that the state cannot meet that goal without releasing dangerous felons and jeopardizing public safety.

In 2011, the justices ruled that the judges had the authority to order California to reduce inmate overcrowding as the key condition for improving prison medical care.

The decision comes as state officials are in settlement talks with attorneys representing inmates.