Born in Spokane, Washington, Nethercutt earned a B.A. in English from Washington State University and a law degree from Gonzaga University. He worked as a clerk for Alaskan federal Judge Raymond Plummer and later as Staff Council and Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska before returning to private practice in Washington State.
He was a founder of the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, a private, non-profit institution to help prevent child abuse. Nethercutt was elected to the House in 1994 in a dramatic election in which he unseated the Speaker of the House Tom Foley. This marked the first time a sitting Speaker of the House was unseated since 1860.
In Congress he sat on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Science Committee. In 2004 Nethercutt gave up his House seat to run as the Republican Party candidate for U.S. Senator from Washington.
After retiring from public service in 2005, Nethercutt served on the board of directors of the Washington Policy Center in Seattle, a nonpartisan free-market think tank. He was the U.S. Chairman of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense-U.S./Canada, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005. He founded the Nethercutt Foundation in 2008 to develop in young adults an understanding of government, business, public policy issues, and civics, and to foster leadership qualities that will add value to their communities.