TranslateThe Hub

Nick Lucht '23 is a Finalist for the
Ninth Circuit Civics Contest

Photo of Seattle Academy Nick L. ‘23 Finalist for the Ninth Circuit Civics Contest

Seattle Academy junior Nick Lucht was recently selected as the third-place essay winner for the Western District of Washington and will advance as a circuit finalist for the Ninth Circuit Civics Contest. High schoolers in the western U.S. and Pacific Islands were invited to participate in the essay and video contest which this year focused on students’ free speech rights, and responsibilities, on and off campus. In all, the circuit received 800 essays and 112 videos submitted this year.

Nick chose to write this essay independently after the constitutional research paper, an assignment in American Studies class with Lisa Feiertag '02, had caught his interest. His essay argues that in light of Supreme Court precedents, outright slander of someone's race should count as disruptive. While freedom of speech is always important in our country, when something becomes hateful, especially in a community environment such as high school, there must be consequences. Therefore bigotry cannot be tolerated in school communities because it is disruptive and unconstitutional. 

 “Nick’s work is walking a careful line to protect free speech rights that the court has whittled away over the last 20 years, while simultaneously challenging the idea that all speech deserves protection in a school. I was excited to see how he based his argument on even earlier precedent!”

This month, as one of the final 42 submissions, Nick will be representing our district (Western District of Washington) as a finalist at the next level of national judging. First-place winners at the circuit level will be invited to attend the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Big Sky, Montana, and a total of $11,400 in cash prizes will be awarded to the top three essay and video winners. Winners will be announced on the civics contest website in June.

2022 Civics Contest logo Nick Lucht Article

Q&A with Nick Lucht

What about your work in American Studies inspired you to submit this independent essay for review? 

We did a constitutional research paper in my 11th grade American Studies class, which is a 20-page paper about a Supreme Court case, and we have also done a lot of projects having to do with the legal system in our country. Supreme Court cases and the precedents that they create tend to be an important subject in that class. This interests me a lot, and when I saw the Ninth Circuit Civics Contest, it was something that I wanted to continue learning about. 

In your essay you chose to write about disruptive speech and how it hurts the school community because it strips students of their right to learn. Why did you choose the Supreme Court case examples you highlighted in your essay?

I chose the most relevant cases for my argument: a lot of famous ones like Tinker v. Des Moines and Morse v. Frederick. Also, as I was researching my topic, I read about a situation where students were using the First Amendment to protect themselves from getting in trouble for racist behavior. That directly supported one of my arguments about disruptive speech versus political speech. I chose that case because it highlighted exactly what was in my argument.

How does this relate to SAAS events that occurred, such as the demonstration held by several Black students last week, or the protest against using Black Diamond Camp and Cascade Camps, or the petition to start school after Labor Day (or other student-voiced concerns)?

At Seattle Academy, we're pretty lucky that we get to go to a school that allows this sort of freedom for students to advocate for their beliefs, without too much pushback from the administration, because at different private schools or at a public school, this kind of behavior could be punished. We get to go to a school in an inclusive community where this kind of civil disobedience or disruptive behavior is tolerated and accepted, so while maybe the kids didn't get exactly what they wanted out of a protest, we're lucky that we get to go to a school where this is allowed at all. While the students are protesting against the school, the school is allowing it to happen, which is going with the mission here at Seattle Academy of challenging ideas. 

How often do you think about, or utilize, your First Amendment right?

At SAAS, we allow students to be able to express their opinions and I feel like I'm always comfortable saying what I believe in, in most spaces I'm in, especially here at school. And I’m glad that I'm able to use my first amendment right whenever I want without it being impeded.

How did you research and obtain insight into the sources and Supreme Court cases you featured in your contest essay?

I did a lot of my own research on the internet pertaining to the exact cases that would help my argument the most. I did a lot of Google searches, including websites and opinions from other people, about not only what the case was, but why it mattered and the important precedents that these cases created. 

What about the First Amendment right stood out to you from your research?

I thought it was really interesting that while it is important to let people engage in free speech and civil disobedience, that sometimes free speech interferes with the individual rights of others around someone engaging in that free speech. And the courts have to kind of gauge or balance these competing interests.

If you win, aside from a trip to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Big Sky, Montana, what do you see yourself doing with the cash prize?

I mean, there's a lot of money involved in the cash prize and if I were to win, I don't think I would keep all the money. I am the leader of the Water-First Club at SAAS. So, I think I would at least allocate some of those funds to my club and the organization to help us do whatever we need for the walk for water, for example. 

Are you proud of winning 3rd place in the Western District of Washington?

I think that I did work really hard and I'm glad that it was recognized. It's nice to get help from supporting parents and teachers in my community, as well.

Would you encourage other students to participate in this civics contest? 

It's a topic I'm interested in and that was a main driver in my motivation to complete a big essay. However, if the topic is not something that interests you, then you might not have the passion to do well in the competition. But like any academic competition, as long as you can, and as long as you have the passion to put in the work, it's 100% worth it.

Are you actively engaged in, or highly interested in, civics in general? Are you involved in any related clubs or extracurricular activities? 

A major focus of the American Studies class is civics and we also did a ninth grade civics unit. I am interested in the topic and I've learned a lot. I'm in the Model UN Club at SAAS which, while it's not necessarily civics, deals with similar issues and discussions.