The justices' inaction this term probably extends the 13 detainees' time at Guantánamo.
The high court, on its last day in session on Monday, took no action on the Uighurs' pending petition. The justices offered no explanation for the inaction.
A federal judge ordered the Uighurs set free eight months ago, but no branch of government appears willing, or able, to step up to solve the problem. The men are starting their eighth year at the US terrorist detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
"I am deeply disappointed," Boston lawyer Sabin Willett said Tuesday. He has presented the high court with a petition laying out a potential landmark case. It asks the justices to examine the scope of judicial power to force the executive branch to provide genuine freedom for Guantánamo detainees ordered released long ago.
"The Great Writ of habeas corpus which used to be 'open the jail door and do it now' – forget that, it's gone," Mr. Willett says.
The Uighurs cannot be sent back to western China, where they fear abusive treatment. Few countries have expressed interest in helping them resettle. A federal judge ruled in October that because the executive branch had been unable to find new homes for the men overseas, they should be released in the US.
Government lawyers objected, and a federal appeals court panel in Washington overturned that ruling in February. The appeals court said the judge exceeded his authority.
In a further complication, Congress recently passed a law barring the executive branch from bringing any Guantánamo detainees onto US soil other than for prosecution.