WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked enforcement of a law intended to protect children from pornography on the Internet, saying the law probably violates free-speech guarantees.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court said 1998 legislation "likely violates the First Amendment."

The court ordered parties from both sides to reconsider the issue in a lower-court trial. The ruling gives the Bush administration a chance to prove the law does not violate free-speech rights.

The case tested the free-speech rights of adults against the power of Congress to control Internet commerce.

The 1998 law, known as the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), never took effect. It would have authorized fines up to $50,000 for the crime of placing material that is "harmful to minors" within the easy reach of children on the Internet, according to The Associated Press.

The law also would have required adults to use access codes and or other ways of registering before they could see objectionable material online, according to the AP.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "the government has not shown that the less-restrictive alternatives proposed ... should be disregarded. Those alternatives, indeed, may be more effective" than the law passed by Congress.

Kennedy said rapid changes in technology would make filtering software a more effective tool to block access than the more restrictive means laid out in COPA, such as age verification and use of a credit card.

He said a new trial would allow fresh discussion of the kinds of technology that could satisfy constitutional concerns.

Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with Kennedy.

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that, while the law places some burdens on adults wishing to view adult material, "it significantly helps to achieve a compelling congressional goal, protecting children from exposure to commercial pornography." He was joined by justices Rehnquist, O'Connor, and Scalia.

The case marked the third time the high court has considered the issue. A 1996 law was struck down by the justices, and the court balked at allowing a second law from going into effect. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued, saying the law criminalizes free speech.

The ACLU applauded the ruling.

"There are many less restrictive ways to protect children without sacrificing communication intended for adults," said Ann Beeson, the ACLU attorney who argued before the Court. "By upholding the order stopping Attorney General Ashcroft from enforcing this questionable federal law, the Court has made it safe for artists, sex educators, and web publishers to communicate with adults about sexuality without risking jail time."

The case is Ashcroft v. ACLU, case no. 03-0218.

The case was the last of nearly 80 cases decided in a busy court term that ended Tuesday with no announcements that any of the nine justices would retire, according to the AP.

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