In a late Tuesday afternoon hearing, AOPA had its first opportunity to argue its case against the state of Michigan's background check law before a U.S. District Court judge in eastern Michigan. The law passed in May 2002 requires a criminal record background check through the FBI for any person seeking flight training in the state to obtain a pilot license, a new certificate, or rating (additional privileges for an already licensed pilot). In a lawsuit filed in August, AOPA contends the law is a violation of Article VI, clause 2 (the "supremacy clause") of the U.S. Constitution.
A motion filed by AOPA for a preliminary injunction is aimed at blocking the state's enforcement of the new law until the court can hear the case and decide whether the state's law is preempted by federal law. AOPA also argued against the state's motion for a change of venue, contending that a substantial number of flight schools in the eastern district of Michigan have experienced a drop in students. If the judge grants the request for preliminary injunction, it will be a statement by the judge that the state appears to be intruding into a federally preempted area.
"This is not so much an issue of aviation security as it is an issue of what regulatory matters a state may implement when it comes to aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. In order to maintain one national unified standard, any regulations effecting aviation should be adopted at the federal level, not at the state or local level. "AOPA preserving a national standard for aviation rulemaking serves to keep the aviation infrastructure moving in the right direction," remarked Boyer.
The judge has said she will rule in writing on both motions that were presented on Tuesday. While no time frame is established for that ruling, AOPA has argued that the need for relief is immediate to address the impact on flight training facilities and those seeking flight training.