In 1960, Ernest Finney began his law practice in Sumter, South Carolina, specializing in civil rights advocacy and defense. He represented the Friendship 9, a group of black college students arrested and charged when trying to desegregate a lunch counter in Rock Hill, S.C. In 1972, Finney was elected to the State House of Representatives. Four years later he became the first black Circuit Court judge. In 1985, he was appointed to the South Carolina Supreme Court and was named Chief Justice on May 11, 1994.