The district was initially created after the 1980 Census, when Nevada was split into districts for the first time. From then until 2013, it occupied all of the state outside of Clark County. From 1993 to 2013, it also included the far northern portion of Clark County. Until 2013, it was the third-largest congressional district by land area that did not cover an entire state. Even though it lost much of its southern portion to the new 4th District after the 2010 census, it is still the fifth-largest district in the nation that does not cover an entire state.
Population estimates indicate that the district will be expanded after the 2020 Census. As of 2015 the district is underpopulated by 15,000. A possible second district based on the 2016 population estimates would cover all of the state outside Clark and Nye counties, but 11,141 residents. Population projections indicates that after the 2020 census the district can encompass all of the state outside Clark and Nye.
On April 21, 2011, U.S. SenatorJohn Ensign (R-Nev.), plagued by scandal and facing an inquiry by the Senate Ethics Committee, announced his resignation effective May 3. On April 27, Governor Brian Sandoval announced he would appoint Dean Heller, the 2nd district's third-term congressman, to fill out Ensign's term in the Senate. Heller had already planned to run for the seat after Ensign announced a month earlier that he would not run for a third term. To fill the vacancy created by Heller's resignation on May 9, Sandoval was required to call a special election to be held within six months of the occurrence of the vacancy.
A special election was held on September 13, 2011. Former Republican state senator Mark Amodei defeated Democratic State Treasurer Kate Marshall.