After the fiasco involving the nomination of former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who abruptly withdrew his name from consideration a month ago, Chertoff appeared to be a safe choice.
Bush pointed out he has already been confirmed for previous jobs three times by the Senate.
"In all of his roles, Mike has shown a deep commitment to the cause of justice and an unwavering determination to protect the American people. Mike has also been a key leader in the war on terror," Bush said in a White House ceremony with the balding, gaunt Chertoff at his side.
Chertoff, 51, of New Jersey, is a former assistant attorney-general at the Justice Department and in the mid-1990s was a special counsel for the US Senate's committee that investigated the Whitewater affair involving former president Bill Clinton, according to a Justice Department resume.
Bush said Chertoff already has experience in efforts to protect the United States from attacks.
Police official Bernard Kerik was
Bush's first choice for the post
On 11 September 2001, Chertoff was managing the Justice Department's 800-strong criminal division.
"In the days after September 11, Mike helped trace the terrorist attacks to the al-Qaida network. He understood immediately that the strategy in the war on terror is to prevent attacks before they occur," Bush said.
Chertoff found early support from Senate Democrat Charles Schumer, who is on the Judiciary Committee that will consider the nomination. Schumer of New York said Chertoff has an "understanding of New York's and America's neglected homeland security needs" and "at the outset, he appears to be a strong choice".
"[Chertoff] understood immediately that the strategy in the war
on terror is to prevent attacks before
US President Bush
The nomination of Chertoff comes nine days before Bush is inaugurated for his second four-year term and leaves the president with one last big job to fill, that of director of national intelligence.
One candidate for that position is retired General Tommy Franks, the former Central Command chief who led the invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
Chertoff has been an appeals court judge for the 3rd Circuit since June 2003.
"He's faced countless challenging decisions and has helped to protect his fellow Americans while protecting their civil liberties," Bush said.
Chertoff would replace Tom Ridge, who was the first secretary of the Homeland Security Department, which was created in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
He said if confirmed, he would "devote all my energy to promoting our homeland security and, as important, to preserving our fundamental liberties".
"If confirmed as secretary, I will be proud to stand again with the men and women who form our front line against terror," Chertoff said at the ceremony.
"Their job is law enforcement and much more. They secure our ports and our airways, our borders and our buildings, our computers and our public utilities. They respond to natural and man-made disasters in our hours of greatest need," he said.