Chameleon Congressional Districts

12 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2020 Last revised: 16 Aug 2021

Date Written: May 20, 2020


The United States Census Bureau counts the number of inhabitants in the United States every ten years. That census leads to the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives based on the total population of each state. And the states draw new congressional districts for the decade ahead, districts with equal numbers of inhabitants in them.

These tasks are ostensibly simple and straightforward. They are designed for electing members to the House of Representatives. But congressional districts serve many other functions, electoral and non-electoral, which may operate below the surface — some of which are common knowledge if we only think about them and some of which we may be unaware of.

Congressional districts, then, are something of a chameleon. They take on a different hue depending on their context, from how political parties go about choosing a presidential nominee to how the military academies fill out their classes. This Essay reflects on some of the alternative roles congressional districts serve and whether they ought to serve such roles.

Keywords: election law, redistricting, census, voting rights, reapportionment, representation, democracy,

JEL Classification: K00, K1

Suggested Citation

Muller, Derek T., Chameleon Congressional Districts (May 20, 2020). 64 St. Louis University Law Journal 673 (2020), U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-16, Available at SSRN:

Derek T. Muller (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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