Trang (Mae) Nguyen

Trang (Mae) Nguyen is the John N. Hazard Fellow at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New York University School of Law. She is currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. Mae’s research uses mixed empirical methods to study transnational business governance, corporate social responsibilities, and law and development. Her work has been published by the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the New York University Law Review, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Mae earned a J.D. degree from NYU School of Law, where she was a Law and Business Scholar and an executive editor of the NYU Law Review.

Mae can be reached at trang.nguyen@nyu.edu or trang@berkeley.edu.

Research

Co-Constructing Business Governance (work in progress) (job talk)

This Article explores how to structure global enterprises to make a positive contribution to economic development when many of the host states of corporate activities are non-democratic. In today’s globalized world, global supply chains are dominated by authoritarian regimes: China is “the world’s factory,” and nearby countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia are popular “China Plus One” destinations. Literature on transnational business governance, however, has largely dismissed the potential of host states as willing or able regulators of supply chain conduct. I argue that because authoritarian regimes directly regulate global supply chains, today’s transnational business governance is enmeshed with host states’ autocratic agendas. This necessitates studying and understanding the structure and underlying logic of “authoritarian legality”; that is, a system designed to derive benefits from formal law and legal institutions while minimizing risk to political stability and social control. Only by understanding the political economy of autocratic systems and matching the incentives of actors involved can international and transnational law bridge the so-called “governance gap” created by the globalized, fragmented nature of supply chains. Drawing insights from comparative law and sociolegal studies of authoritarian regimes, this Article examines three case studies—China, Vietnam, and Cambodia—to illustrate how the logic of authoritarian legality drives transnational business governance in each respective jurisdiction. It ends with a normative suggestion: International mediation—a form of non-judicial remedy that so far has attracted little attention in the context of business and human rights—can be a viable forum to redress business-related harms in autocratic host states.

Law and Sentiments in Authoritarian Courts (work in progress)

What roles, if any, do emotions play in authoritarian courts? While courts and judges in Western legal ideology are often cast in a myth of iron-clad rationality, the opposite is assumed about the enterprise of judging in authoritarian contexts: at worst unprofessional and corrupt, at best beholden to situational justice and local norms at the expense of law. Using empirical methods, this paper explores the notion of fairness as an interplay between compassion and legality in one such judicial system — Vietnam. Taking advantage of recent publication of court cases, this paper analyzes a database of over 200 criminal decisions by the Vietnam Supreme People’s Court, supplemented by interviews with judges, court officials, and lawyers, to shed light on a core tenet of socialist legality — judging “with reason and sentiment” (“hợp tình hợp lý”). I focus on situations in which statutory laws require judges to balance multiple mitigating and aggravating factors in criminal sentencing. The goals are two-fold. First, by analyzing how judges weight these factors, I challenge existing literature’s view of judicial “sentiment” as extra-legal discretion, arguing instead that the law deliberately makes room for emotions as a way to bolster populist legitimacy. Second, as statutory laws allow judges leeway in balancing criminal sentencing factors, studying judicial decisions can reveal valuable information on how judges exercise discretion in a tightly controlled space.

In Search of Judicial Legitimacy: Criminal Sentencing in Vietnamese Courts, 32 Harvard Human Rights Journal 147 (2019)

How do authoritarian courts, conventionally viewed as weak legal actors, build legitimacy? Inspired by Ernst Fraenkel’s concept of the “dual state” and building on Richard Fallon’s framework of judicial legitimacy that undergirds democratic courts, this Article seeks to operationalize the nebulous concept of legitimacy as related to authoritarian judiciaries. While Fallon’s tripartite framework of sociological-moral-legal legitimacy provides an insightful typology on democratic courts’ legitimation sources, it does not (and is not meant to) capture the undercurrents of authoritarian courts, many of which lack independence and struggle to build institutional capacity. This Article extends Fallon’s framework to courts in authoritarian regimes by proposing a fourth dimension — interbranch legitimacy — that texturizes the relationship between authoritarian courts and the political actors on whom these courts depend for prestige and resources. Using a multi-method empirical inquiry, this Article demonstrates how this extended framework operates in one such authoritarian context — Vietnam. By taking an empirical and comparative approach, this Article seeks to contribute to both the theory and practical discourse on authoritarian legality, rule of law, and comparative law.

Note, Grading Regulators: The Impact of Global and Local Indicators on Vietnam’s Business Governance, 88 New York University Law Review 2254 (2013)

International indicators are widely used as diagnostic tools for global governance. For the developing world, with scarce resources and complex social problems, indicators can help businesses, donors, and policymakers identify issues, tailor solutions, and measure impacts. This Note studies the dynamics between global and domestic indicators in Vietnam, particularly the ways they influence Vietnam’s policy processes. It finds that while global indicators have advanced the notion of competitiveness and made it a priority of the national government, sub-national indicators—here, a ranking of Vietnam’s provinces—play a significant role as a more tailored and focused tool to motivate internal competition for pro-business reforms. This Note therefore confirms the dominant viewpoint that global indicators influence a country’s development agenda, but concludes that this effect is even more pronounced in the presence of robust local indicators.

Curriculum Vitae