"It really takes a lot of time for economies in black communities to recover in terms of jobs and in terms of incomes so this time we need to be deliberate as opposed to expecting it to happen."
- Spencer Overton


President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies at George Washington University

Professor at George Washington University Law School

Monica Campbell of The World-PRI Interviews Spencer Overton






Recent research on future of work in communities of color, his perspective on election law, and voting rights are particularly valuable as the country approaches an election in which the coronavirus crisis presents new dangers of voter suppression.


Future workplace, voting rights, campaign finance, election law and reform


Law professor at George Washington University Law School President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies since 2014 (a think tank at GWU focused on racial equality in politics and economics) Former chair of government reform policy for the Obama presidential campaign Author and political commentator


Spencer has taught at George Washington University since 2002. He took a leave of to serve as part of the Obama campaign and administration from 2007-2010. He served as chair of government reform policy for the Obama campaign from 2007-2008 and helped write the administration’s ethics guidelines as part of the Obama transition team. Before he joined the George Washington University law school faculty, he was a member of the law faculty of the University of California, Davis, and served as the Charles Hamilton Houston Fellow at Harvard. Before he began his teaching career, he practiced law at Debevoise & Plimpton in Washington, DC, where he worked on investigations by Congress and the Justice Department into fundraising techniques employed by the Democratic National Committee. He’s also served as a commissioner on the Jimmy Carter-James Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform. He’s contributed commentary to the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times.


Bachelor’s (B.A.) in mass media and journalism from Hampton University J.D. (Juris Doctor) from Harvard Law School

MAJOR PUBLICATIONS He’s published articles on election law in journals including the Texas Law Review, the Michigan Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. He’s also written for a popular audience: “The CDC Must End Its Silence on the Racial Impact of COVID-19,” The Washington Post, April 2020 Overton urges the federal government to disclose racial data on the impact of COVID-19. “2020 Democratic presidential candidates should be talking about the future of work for people of color,” The Hill, August 2019 Overton argues that presidential candidates need to include policies that address the concerns of people of color as part of their campaign platforms. In 2006 Overton wrote Stealing Democracy: The Real Politics of Voter Suppression exploring how politicians maintain power by cherry-picking voters while championing an America full of self-governing people. Overton unpacked the problems with gerrymandered district boundaries and English-only ballots and explores potential alternatives.


“Responsibility to Low-Income Workers,” Inside Higher Education, July 2019 Overton argues that the federal government should invest in workers. He cites Joint Center survey data that shows that even though about 50% of workers of color are interested in pursuing community college and certification programs, they’re reluctant to invest in higher education and job training because they’re unsure whether the return will be worth the cost “The Politics of Voter Suppression,” NPR, July 2006 Overton talks about his book, Stealing Democracy, and says those worried about voting machine fraud overlook the larger issues in a political system in which politicians get to choose their voters.


"A Country in Crisis: How Disinformation Online is Dividing the Nation." June 24, 2020 Spencer Overton testifies in (virtually) to the The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing. The goal of the hearing was to discuss whether disinformation shared by social media companies has a dangerous and divisive effect on our nation as we endure the COVID-19 epidemic. “Law professor Spencer Overton on the lack of diversity among congressional staffers,” The Hill, October 2018 Overton discusses the Joint Center’s finding that although people of color comprise 38% of the U.S. population, they account for only 14% of top House of Representatives staff members. He argues that without elected representatives who reflect the appearance of the U.S. population, the concerns of minorities will go unheard. “Joint Center President Spencer Overton on MSNBC PoliticsNation,” MSNBC, September 2018 Al Sharpton talks to Overton about the Joint Center’s most recent findings on racial representation in Congress, including the finding that Americans are more likely to elect a black candidate to Congress than the actaul members of the House are to hire top staff members of color.

Featured photo credit: Yasmeen Enahora of District Photography and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law