Nazri is an alumnus of Malay College Kuala Kangsar.
Nazri was originally the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of legal affairs and judicial reform since 2004. After the 2008 general election, which saw the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition's majority in Parliament significantly reduced, the then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reshuffled his Cabinet and gave Nazri's legal affairs portfolio to Zaid Ibrahim but only lasted for 6 months when Zaid resigned in September 2008. He was the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of law and parliamentary affairs as of 2008.
In June 2005, Nazri caused controversy when he shouted the phrase "racist" (or variants of it) 28 times in Parliament. A request by opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) lawmaker Fong Po Kuan for Nazri to take back his comments went unheeded. The incident occurred during a debate on the Malaysian Medical Council's derecognition of Crimea State Medical University (CSMU) medical degrees; most Malaysian students sent to study there were of Indian extraction. Nazri has since used the phrase "bloody racist" on Tun Dr. Mahathir because the latter supports a controversial government programme that allegedly indoctrinates racist sentiments in civil servants and public university students. Opposition Member of Parliament Karpal Singh said Nazri had misled Parliament when he said judges involved in the 1988 Judicial crisis were not sacked but were asked to take early retirement. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad also refuted Nazri's suggestion saying Tun Salleh Abas and two of the five other judges involved in the 1988 judicial crisis had not been dismissed but were asked to retire early. He said Salleh Abas was sacked as Lord President but obtained a pension on grounds of compassion.
In 2006, he been called the hatchetman of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then Prime Minister of Malaysia, by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for defending Abdullah in Mahathir's ongoing criticisms against the government. In 2009, photos surfaced of a woman and a man rumoured to be Nazri in a compromising position but several politicians who were close to him said the man in the pictures is not him. In September 2010, he came out openly in the defence of Prime Minister Najib's 1Malaysia policy, saying that he is a Malaysian first and a Malay next. This is in complete opposition to that expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, who has time and again reiterated that he is Malay first and Malaysian second.
In 2016, he was criticised for his decision of threatening to stop tourism funding from his ministry to Sabah and Sarawak if both the states did not implement a proposed tourism service tax fee of between RM5 and RM30 on each hotel room booking. In response to his statement, the Sabah State Tourism, Environment and Culture Assistant Minister Pang Nyuk Ming stated:
Following criticism over his tourism tax fee plan by Sarawak State Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, Nazri responded by chiding the minister by calling him a “greenhorn” and “behaving like a gangster”. His response received backlash from other government-allied parties who perceived his words as being “too rude” and “far from being constructive”. Abdul Rahman Dahlan was attacked with similar words after Nazri perceived him as being defensive towards Karim. As a result of his comment, the Sarawak state government made a decision to withdraw their participation from Tourism Malaysia. Nazri continued with his stance and said he did not regret the Sarawak decision while stressing that he did not intend to punish Sarawak and would be fair towards the state. According to Nazri, he was forced to made the remarks against the Sarawak minister after being accused of eroding and not respecting the Sarawak state rights. Nazri also questioned the Sarawak state government for not expressing their objections several months earlier in Parliament and the Cabinet, to which the Democratic Action Party (DAP) also claimed they had been opposing the bill alone at the time without the support from any of the Sabah and Sarawak government-allied politicians.
However, according to Sabah State Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister, Masidi Manjun, both states had indeed objected the proposed tax in the previous year before its tabling in the Parliament, whereas the federal government continued to enact the Tourism Tax Act 2017 to impose a levy on all tourists. Nevertheless, as stated by Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen: once a bill is tabled in Parliament without any opposition from the members of parliament (MPs) of the government-allied parties during the session, the bill is sure to be approved because of the sheer number of the ruling government MPs in Parliament. He further blamed the six Sarawak MPs who were Federal Ministers (see Cabinet of Malaysia) for failing to oppose the tourism tax proposal during its tabling in the previous parliamentary session. In response to the ongoing criticism, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar explained to the media that in the spirit of collective responsibility practised in Commonwealth countries, Sarawakian parliamentarians who are cabinet members cannot object to the ruling government coalition's decision in the Parliament and telling the media to ask any MPs who do not have any ministerial posts to find the answer. Prior to this, Lubok Antu MP William Nyallau Badak was contacted by the media and he said not all Sarawak and Sabah MPs supported the proposed Tourism Tax. In his statement:
The Sarawak MP however felt that the federal government should have consulted and sought approval from their state Chief Minister Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg first before announcing its implementation which would impact Sarawak's tourism industry. On 14 June, Nazri said his spat with Karim and three federal ministers from East Malaysia had come to an end under the “Barisan Nasional (BN) spirit”, adding that it was unnecessary for him to withdraw his previous remarks or apologise to Karim and that the tourism tax would come into effect from 1 July 2017, which later deferred to 1 August.