Tiffany Thomas-Smith’s historic run for judgeship in Bucks County was generations in the making
If successful in her race for a spot on the Philly suburban county’s Court of Common Pleas, she will be the first Black woman to sit on the bench in its…
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Bucks County, Pennsylvania, located about 45 minutes north of downtown Philadelphia, is a predominantly white county, with a Black population of less than 5%. Unsurprisingly, there has never been a Black woman to run for Judge of Bucks’ Court of Common Pleas — until now.
Tiffany Thomas-Smith, family and criminal law attorney, will make history in 2021 as the first Black woman to run for the position, and use the skills she acquired in her two decades of trial experience to be a “judge for the community.”
Thomas-Smith holds a B.A in history from Duke University, a Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law, and has operated her own law firm for 12 years.
In an interview with AL DÍA News, Thomas-Smith shared more about her educational and professional background, her passions for social justice on a local and global scale, and the values she hopes to bring to the courtroom.
Thomas-Smith said she pursued the study of law simply because she loves being able to help people in profound ways.
This can be seen through her engagement with The Healing Consciousness Foundation (HCF), and the WISER School.
Thomas-Smith, a breast cancer survivor herself, once served as a member of the Board of Directors for HCF. It is a non-profit organization, founded by nationally recognized breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Beth Baughman Dupree, that seeks to integrate Western medicine with Eastern modalities to help patients heal their mind, body and spirit.
In addition to breast cancer awareness and holistic healing, Thomas-Smith is a fervent proponent for the education needs of girls worldwide, especially in African countries.
In the regions of sub-Saharan Africa alone, 49 million girls are not being educated in primary and secondary schools.
WISER School provides young women in Muhuru Bay, Kenya with all the resources they need to succeed, including a proper education, clean water and fresh food, and sexual and reproductive health training.
“It’s composed of young women ages 14-20 who are able to be supported in a private school-like setting, where they are, for the most part, the first women or girls in their family to be educated,” said Thomas-Smith.
In March 2019, she was able to visit WISER to meet the students. On the trip, she visited one of the students in her home and the living situation that Thomas-Smith witnessed further cemented into her mind the importance of the work.
Thomas-Smith said that if she knew how life-changing this kind of work would be, she “would have done this years ago.”
Thomas-Smith feels that she will make a great judge because she is a fierce advocate for what she calls “compassionate justice.”
She used the analogy of people facing a medical crisis to illustrate how scared, unfamiliar and worried people are when they walk into a courtroom, unsure of what their future will hold.
“When people are treated with understanding and empathy, and they understand that you’re applying the facts and the law to their situation, and you can educate them about that, that is what is crucially needed on the bench,” she explained.
The candidate for judge believes that this kind of compassion is painfully lacking in today’s justice system, and it’s one reason why people are taking their grievances to the street — because they feel unheard.
Another reason Thomas-Smith feels that she is particularly qualified for the bench is her understanding of systemic discrimination.
In her interview with AL DÍA, she made clear the distinction between systemic discrimination versus systemic racism.
She doesn’t necessarily believe that people are racist in their application of the law, but rather that the systems are built on discriminatory policies.
“Having a clear, distinct understanding of that [difference], is going to also set me apart and make me uniquely suited to do a better job [as Judge],” said Thomas-Smith.
Last September, Thomas-Smith gave a presentation to her colleagues at the Bench Bar Continuing Legal Education (CLE) in Doylestown, PA, that delved deep into systemic discrimination, specifically the prevalence of microaggressions.
Microaggressions are based on negative unconscious deficit-based beliefs woven in the fabric of society. Unchecked, they cause significant harm to those deemed as the ‘other’. pic.twitter.com/ZnfRuS4RNo— Strawberry Words (@WordsStrawberry) January 18, 2021
“As the Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, it was important to me to bring to the bench and to the Bar, issues that resonate with the people that we come into contact with on a daily basis,” she said.
Some of the things that people of color will often hear are disguised as compliments, but are in fact very devastating.
Asian and Latino Americans are frequently faced with questions like ‘where are you really from?’ and many Black professionals will receive comments like, ‘oh you went to Duke, it must have been really hard for you to get in.’
Thomas-Smith explained that microaggressions happen so often that they become normalized.
“It is something that happens every day, particularly to young people and it is an invalidating practice that people utilize and do and implement without even knowing that they’re doing it,” she said. “So when you take the opportunity to educate somebody about something that they’re doing, then they have more of an opportunity to address it and to change it.”
When asked about being a trailblazer on the ballot for Bucks County’s Court of Common Pleas, Thomas-Smith expressed excitement for the designation.
“I feel very proud to have the opportunity to run for Judge because I’m proud to represent the people of Bucks county, regardless of how they perceive me,” she said.
When she thinks about her family and her history, this new venture makes Thomas-Smith feel proud in a different way.
“I am doing something that is representative of all the hard work and energy that the people that came before me did. They laid the groundwork: my mother, my father, my sisters, my grandparents, once or twice removed from slavery,” said Thomas-Smith. “It’s really interesting to see what happens in generations with hard work and support.”