The Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professorship; Professor of Law
Spencer Overton is the Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law at George Washington University and has researched, published, and taught extensively on democracy and race. He also directs the GW Equity Institute’s Multiracial Democracy Project, which serves as a bridge between scholars, policymakers, civil rights organizations, and democracy groups to tackle challenges like racialized disinformation, gerrymandering, and voter suppression. He is currently working on research projects related to the regulation of AI to facilitate a well-functioning multiracial democracy and the implications of alternative voting systems for multiracial democracy.
Professor Overton held several senior leadership roles during the Obama campaign, transition, and Administration. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he led over 140 experts as chair of the campaign’s Government Reform Policy committee. On the transition, he chaired the Election Assistance Commission Agency Review Team, served on the Federal Election Commission Agency Review Team, and helped write the Administration’s ethics guidelines while serving in the office of the General Counsel. During the Administration, he was appointed as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, and partnered with other senior officials in leading the Administration’s democracy policy efforts related to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Administration’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in federal elections.
Professor Overton’s work on the Jimmy Carter-James Baker Commission laid the groundwork for modern arguments against unnecessary voting restrictions. As a member of the DNC Presidential Nomination Scheduling Commission, he led an effort that resulted in Iowa restoring voting rights to over 80,000 returning citizens. He was also part of a group of commissioners that worked to successfully move more diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada to the beginning of the modern Democratic presidential primary process, which would later have significant implications in selecting the Democratic nominee in 2008 (Barack Obama) and 2020 (Joseph Biden).
From 2014-2023, Professor Overton served as the President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies—America’s Black think tank—where he rebuilt the organization and worked closely with civil rights groups, the Congressional Black Caucus, and various other federal, state, and local policymakers to increase diversity among top political appointees and to devise and advance racially-equitable policies. Professor Overton has also served on the national boards of the American Constitution Society, the Center for Responsive Politics (Open Secrets), Common Cause, and Demos, and served as an advisory board member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Professor Overton practiced law at the firm Debevoise & Plimpton, clerked for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith, and graduated with honors from both Hampton University and Harvard Law School.