Roberts, a stauch conservative, was named by Bush in a live, nationwide television broadcast.
He would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has long been a swing vote on a court divided narrowly on issues such as abortion, affirmative action, states' rights and the death penalty.
"John Roberts has devoted his entire professional life to the cause of justice," Bush said, "and is widely admired for his intellect his sound judgment and his personal decency."
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will take office for a lifetime term.
Roberts has been on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since June 2003 after being picked for that seat by Bush.
A Washington insider, Roberts is a 50-year-old native from Buffalo, N.Y., who attended Harvard Law School.
As an attorney, he has argued 39 cases times before the Supreme Court. "I always got a lump in my throat whenever I walked up those marble steps to argue a case before the court, and I don't think it was just from the nerves," he said after the nomination.
Roberts also worked in private practice and once worked for the Justice Department.
For four years, he was principal deputy solicitor general, the government's second highest lawyer, who argues cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As a judge, Roberts has taken positions in cases involving free speech and religious liberty that endanger those rights, those who have followed his career say.
It is likely that Roberts's own opinion on abortion and birth control will be questioned during his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate. Roberts also has often taken a position against government environmental regulation.
Democrats are expected to broadly oppose Roberts on grounds that he would shift the balance of the court to the right, as well as leaving Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only female justice.