The Supreme Court refused yesterday to be drawn into a dispute over President Bush's power to detain terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens and deny them traditional legal rights.

It would have been unusual for the court to take the case of "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla now, because a federal appeals court has not yet ruled on the issue. Arguments are scheduled for July 19 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.

A year ago, the court ruled that the Bush administration could not detain foreign terrorist suspects at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without access to lawyers and courts. But justices declined to address a separate issue: whether U.S. citizens arrested on American soil can be designated "enemy combatants" and held without trial.

Padilla has been in custody since 2002, when he was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after returning from Pakistan. The government views him as a militant who planned attacks on the United States, including a strike with a conventional bomb wrapped in radioactive material.

A federal judge ruled that his indefinite detention would be a "betrayal of this nation's commitment to the separation of powers that safeguards our democratic values and individual liberties."

Padilla's lawyers sought to skip the appeals court and have the Supreme Court intervene.

Jose Padilla has been held without charge since 2002.