If you watched TV in the 1960s and 1970s as I did, you would undoubtedly have come away with the idea that this country’s courts, law enforcement agencies, and the laws they aimed to honor added up to a system in which justice was always served.

In those years, for instance, Perry Mason was a much-loved staple from coast to coast. In each episode, Perry, that intrepid, tall, dark, kindly genius of a defense attorney, would face off against Hamilton Burger, a small-boned, pointy faced, sanctimonious prosecutor — and justice would always be served. He had what seemed then to be an all-American knack for uncovering exactly the right evidence of misdeeds that would lead justice directly to the doorstep of the true perpetrator of any crime and bring him or her to account. The takeaway caught the mood of the time: the courts and the legal system were powerful platforms for serving justice, sorting out right from wrong, punishing the criminals, and exonerating the innocent.